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It’s been one of those weeks in the good ol’ U.S. of A. The kind of week that reminds a person just how deeply divided our country is, and how pathetically disconnected so many people are from the realities that exist for anyone besides people just like them. 

It would also seem that there is a large majority of people out there in Facebook land that simply don’t want to have to think for themselves. So they rely on the media, or their favorite politician, or their favorite talk show host, or their favorite celebrity, or their preacher, or their parents to tell them what they need to believe. 

Common sense, research, talking to and listening to the viewpoints of people unlike themselves never factors into their opinions, worldviews, or belief systems. They just believe (as Huck Finn said so eloquently) “whatever come handiest”. They look for CONFIRMation, not INFORMation. 

I’m not judging. We all do this. It’s human nature. Still, it’s entirely counterproductive. 

In science it often happens that scientists say, ‘You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,’ and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.

Carl Sagan

As a child, I never attended a ton of sporting events. I went to my fair share of baseball games and rodeos. But I knew the national anthem and the pledge of allegiance by heart before I could remember my own address. A lot of people had similar experiences. I believe America, for the most part, is a nation of patriotic and freedom-loving people. The unity of our country following 9/11 proved to me that it is possible for people to find common ground and see each other as brothers and sisters, and not through the lens of race, religion, politics, gender, etc.

But you surely wouldn’t know it to look at America lately.

It’s been an interesting scene to watch playing out, this issue of standing or kneeling. And it’s like so many other issues that spark controversy and public outrage:

First, you have the uproar.

Then the arguments and debates. 

Then the unfriending, the abstinence from social media or boycotting of something.

Then, finally, the attempt to change the subject.

But here’s what I find interesting, and perhaps, if there is any good reason for Donny John to be in the White House, it might be this:

People aren’t giving up….they’re digging in.

People who have been victimized, brutalities that have been ignored, prejudices that have gone unchecked are being called out into the open. And I have to believe that this is a good thing. Because only when light shines on something can it begin to be seen and changed.

If there is no love of others, love of country is just a slogan.

T.F. Hodge

The frustration of many people in having someone as…….. loosely wound as our current President has left them realizing that staying quietly in the shadows is no longer an option. At some point, not saying anything says everything. And I cannot be the person that no longer says nothing.

I have stood and saluted our nation’s flag more times than I can count. I have recited the pledge and sang along with the Star Spangled Banner and thanked God for the veterans who bravely serve and have served our country. 

But I do not worship a piece of cloth. And I do not idolize our military or those in uniform. I respect both. But more than both, I respect the idea of freedom. And it was that idea that I was taught to revere from an early age. And it is that idea that leaves me with the position I take on this most recently divisive issue in our society.

You can believe what someone should do. You can complain about what they do or don’t do. But you cannot and should not ever be able to tell another free citizen what they have to do. 

Obviously there are caveats. But I’m not talking about breaking laws. I’m talking more about breaking tradition and busting the comfort bubble of other people. 

Being able to be a free citizen means that you are free to live your life as you please, as long as that does not result in harm to another. And, I’m sorry, my friends, but that “harm” doesn’t include hurt feelings. God knows those of us who didn’t vote for our current administration have been told to suck it up at least a dozen times in the last 10 months. To stop being “snowflakes”. I think it’s time for the ones who doled out those statements to heed their own advice. 

As free as you allow others to be, such freedom you create for yourself.

Bryant McGill

I have had to talk to my daughter a lot since the election. And I’ve had to explain that freedom isn’t easy because it means that if you get to live out your beliefs, other people are free to do that as well. And you might not like it, but freedom isn’t a one way street. 

Having these conversations with her, and seeing the discussions myself, daily, in the news, on social media, etc. It’s exhausting. 

But here is what I know:

Freedom for people like myself and freedom for people NOT like myself doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive. It is a two way street, but it requires people to act like adults and use what is perhaps the greatest freedom of all: the freedom to think for oneself. 

I used to not understand why those who relish their own freedom, seem so reluctant to want other people to enjoy the same opportunity. But then I learned something. 

People generally don’t want a level playing field for the simple fact that they find it threatening. And yet…

The freedom of my atheist friends to not believe in God does not hinder my freedom to worship in the church of my choosing and believe in Christianity. 

The freedom of my gay friends to marry and be given in marriage does not hinder my freedom to do the same, nor has it cheapened my marriage or made it less important or sacred.

The freedom of those who choose not to salute a flag does not hinder any of my freedoms in any way. But it does do something that I think is really at the heart of every controversial issue like this: it scares people. 

When someone does something that we find different from what we ourselves would do, we become uncomfortable. Our minds begin to have to work. And, before you know it, you’re having to *gasp* think.

When people tell us, again and again, that racism exists, sexism exists, oppression exists, police brutality exists – it’s not pleasant news to hear. And, if we don’t really have to deal with these types of situations ourselves, the easiest thing to do is act like the ones who are dealing with it are crazy, stupid, or are simply exaggerating. Because they are not like us. 

So let me think back to my American history a little bit.

There were these people, once upon a time, who felt very, very oppressed. They didn’t have the one thing that their very beings cried out for the most: freedom. So they bucked the system. They were ridiculed and scorned and killed because they refused to show allegiance to a crown that did not show them justice or freedom. Our country celebrates those men and women, because from their rebellion, from their refusal to conform, was born a country that set the standard for what freedom is supposed to mean. And yet, we now ridicule anyone who doesn’t worship at the throne of conservative or, yes my left-leaning friends, liberal ideology. We have become the oppressor, if in no other way but by simply ridiculing and scorning those who are not like us and have different ideas about how to live life, protect liberty, and pursue happiness. And, being perfectly honest, it didn’t take us long to get there, since as soon as we set foot on American soil, we decided that the native savages needed to be……dealt with.

I have never been more keenly aware of the hypocrisy within the conservative ideology than I am at this point in my life. There is plenty of that in liberal ideology as well, but I grew up in a conservative and right leaning household so the origins of my political thought process are where my frustrations rest most often these days. 

Disrespecting our veterans? Disrespecting our flag? And yet I have seen Old Glory fly in yards during inclement weather, or with no spotlight on it at night. I have seen it stretched out across size C silicone or foreheads in a bandana. I have seen beer cans that display it as an advertising gimmick and watched as it has been used to promote unjust wars and candidates who are anything but patriots or fitting to lead a nation that was built upon the very idea of freedom.

And you, yes you, if you are an American, you are free-ish.

If you want to boycott the NFL…. 

If you want to attend a BLM rally….

If you are a simple writer with limited vocabulary, an ever-evolving worldview, and a propensity for not being able to hold back an opinion even though everything in your brain tells you that people are gonna rip into your carefully chosen words without consideration for anything other than their own point of view….and you post it online for the world to see anyway….

Know that you are free to act, but not free from ridicule.

So do us all a favor, and make sure you’re doing whatever you do because you made up your own mind about it and not because someone else did your thinking for you. 

Because the freedom to think for yourself is a priceless gift, and one that too many people are forgetting to use.

The third-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the majority. The second-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the minority. The first-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking.

A.A. Milne