I started to write about lessons I have learned from my dad and others in the Greatest Generation. As I did, I realized that our recent series about community (The Value of Community, The Loss of Community, and Building Community) had neglected to discuss a very important lesson that my dad had taught me about community and beliefs.
My dad has often talked about the political differences between his father and a particular neighbor. His dad would listen to news commentators and then decide where he stood on an issue. Invariably, this particular neighbor would end up on the opposite side of the issue. So, my grandfather learned never to engage in any conversation on topics that might be controversial or political with that particular neighbor. He didn’t avoid the neighbor or cut off his relationship with him. He simply made sure that they talked about other topics.
The Moral of The Story
The moral of the story is simple. Community is more important than any set of beliefs. Had these two farmers put their beliefs ahead of their friendship, they would have lost a sense of community. That simple act could have literally split the local community into factions decreasing the overall sense of community.
Can you imagine what it would have been like if they stopped supporting and helping each other because of some issue that had two sides? I do know that would have changed my dad’s life and my own.
I also know that even back 100 years ago, sometimes people did take sides and it was blown up into a major issue that split the community. One great example was Temperance. Some people believed alcohol was sent from Satan and should never be touched. Meanwhile, others indulged from time to time or at least believed they should have the right to do so. Issues like this did destroy communities at least for a period of time.
Today it would do us well to remember this lesson. Currently, many relationships and lives are being destroyed simply because two people or two groups disagree. I know of real examples where people will completely avoid or harm other people because of their beliefs. In some cases, they won’t even talk to family because of differences in beliefs.
I predict that one day many people will look back on their estrangement from others with regret. Issues come and go as do politicians. Likewise, most people’s beliefs and perspectives change throughout their lifetime. So, to lose contact with family or even community members over such a thing seems to be putting the emphasis on the wrong thing.
Diversity of Thought
Somehow people have come to feel threatened by diversity of thought. This leads to the question, “What is so important about our beliefs that we are willing to destroy our relationships and our community over them?”
Exactly what led to this moment in time is likely a combination of factors. And, frankly, how we got here isn’t the most important thing at this point. Later, humanity can look back and analyze the decisions, schools of thought, and actions that led to this moment.
Instead, people should now focus on where do we go from here. One option is to keep things the way they are. If people won’t even talk and aren’t willing to listen, people can never come to an agreement. Thus, greater and greater division will occur among people. There is no way to stop it.
On the other hand, if there is a desire to bring people together, the first thing people should do is consider the importance of community. If they believe that humanity and our communities are critical to existence, then they become far more important than any individual belief. Like my grandfather, people will then find ways to coexist in harmony.
Second, people need to remember respect. That is one of the keys to my grandfather and his neighbor’s relationship. They disagreed on many topics, but they respected each other as people. Without respect, no community can exist.