I’ve always been a peacemaker. A lifetime of personal unease has taught me to value security and appreciate a sense of quiet calm. While I love a robust intellectual debate, I detest bullies, bravado, and the emotional injuries that come from interpersonal conflict. If I have a burden, it’s seeing both sides of most issues. These days, the middle is a lonely place. The eye of any storm is stressful. For it’s hard to be calm when you’re consumed by the notion that the safety you long for is an illusion. The winds will pick up…any minute now.
But maybe there’s value in my desire to diffuse aggressive oration and impassioned rants. Maybe all word warriors should learn to listen more, shout less, and simply breathe through a friendly exchange of ideas.
Having listened, it occurs to me that the left and right have a lot in common. For years liberals have warned us about the ill effects of climate change. Simply, as the planet warms, the ice caps melt, sea levels rise, and host of freak weather events plague the world’s population. The facts are irrefutable.
The challenge in accepting them is emotional. It, and the change needed to turn the tide, requires all people to examine their behavior and come to believe the notion that our actions are not sustainable. This is particularly hard for Americans. After all, we’ve grown up on the promise of a chicken in every pot, a car (or three) in every garage, and of course, the dream of home ownership. These ideals have morphed into entitlements, which in turn have contributed to everything from the mortgage crisis to species extinction. On this, the liberals are correct.
When it comes to immigration, it seems the conservatives are right…ironically for the very same reasons. For years they’ve warned of overcrowding, resource drain, and a breakdown of basic social services. Again, the facts are irrefutable. Anyone with a calculator can do the math. As with climate change, while the timeline is uncertain, the end state is not. Eventually our cup will run over.
Of course, that too is an emotionally charged sentiment and one that is not easy to accept. America is, after all, the nation that has long called to the world:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
The problem we face is one of success. Maybe Mr. Hoover expected America’s population to nearly triple when he made his famous pledge in 1928. That’s certainly a lot of chickens. And maybe Emma Lazarus’s poem which was endearingly affixed to artist Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi statue, was indeed meant to be a binding contract. Maybe they and the country’s founders believed the then 50 million population would and should swell indefinitely. Maybe, but I doubt it.
America is no more defined by a poem on a statue than it is by the vehicles we use to get to work. We are a nation of ideas, of builders, of problems solvers and reinventors. Maybe it’s time to accept both inconvenient truths: Our country and our planet is both too warm and too crowded. Recycling water bottles won’t fix things. Neither will shuffling people about the Earth. These tired solution archetypes won’t work. The wounds humanity has created demand more than Band-Aids. And we have so many wounds.
Recently there was a move to topple historic statues from the civil war era. Again, Americans were divided. Some thought the ill thinking they represented should be erased from existence while others felt they should be preserved as a solemn reminder to ward off a future occurrence. As always, I sat in the middle, seeing both sides.
Maybe my next car should be electric. Maybe Lady Liberty needs a new poem. Admittedly, our challenges exceed my problem-solving capability, but what I do know is that without real change on both issues, we all risk becoming the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
Tim Toterhi is an author, career coach, CHRO, and speaker. But mostly he’s a husband, dad, teacher and student. Read more at www.TimToterhi.com