I’m sitting in the living room and along comes my eight-year-old wielding a pretend sword (some attachment to the baby crib we aren’t using). He whips it this way and that, twirling and making sound effects as he goes. As he reaches the center of the living room he lifts an eyebrow and says, “Look, Mom. I’m a master swordsman. I should be on America’s Got Talent.”
My son comes up with plenty of far-fetched, high-reaching ideals and most of the time I respond with encouragement. Today, however, feeling overwhelmed by how hard life can be, I decide to take a more pragmatic, realistic approach.
We start talking about his big dream and what steps would be necessary to realize it. As we walk through some of the finer points of both his dream and the path to get there, I can see his face slowly lose its light. As his expression darkens, he ends the conversation by giving me that “never mind, ya killed it” look and walking away.
A part of me feels bad that my approach led to him concluding that the effort wouldn’t be worth it. I want him to dream big and one day find success. But occasionally I do think it’s important to recognize that success isn’t instantaneous. The success we see in the world often comes as a result of prolonged effort.
I have to admit, looking at our political environment over the last few years, I’ve felt like people are trying to take a similar approach with unity. Like my enthusiastic son, they wield the sword of “unity” and expect great things to magically happen. I understand the appeal. I know a lot of us are sick of being divided.
But simply preaching unity isn’t going to bring us together.
At the end of this you might give me that “ya killed it” look, but I’m hoping for those of you who really care about unity, you’ll want it badly enough to consider some of these finer points.
Unity takes a lot of work, obviously. It requires openness and the ability to validate and listen to people who don’t agree with you.
I’ve had to let that sink in. Am I ready to work with people who don’t agree with me? Am I ready to try unifying with people who are perhaps angry and upset? Or with people who aren’t all that great at listening?
To create unity, we have to be ready to unite with people, even those who don’t make it easy. The last four years and the 2020 election have added to the already difficult task of coming together in politics. The new way we communicate with each other disposes of formalities and gets right to the rough and raw points we want to make. We let it all hang out and expect people to deal with it.
And that often makes it harder to WANT to unify.
I’ll admit, there have been times I’ve had a bit of a chip on my shoulder, upset by politics and government. I haven’t been happy with things going on and I find myself sometimes attracted to the rhetoric that validates my feelings. My face will sometimes darken at initial pushback when someone disagrees with me. I can become hyper-focused on researching ways to prove them wrong.
Fortunately, I have several friends who are more invested. They point out that I have to work harder and not simply regurgitate information. These friends have stayed with me as I have learned how to become better at unifying and validating. They are patient with me as I have had to work through feelings until I am ready to put in the effort. It’s been these more invested relationships that have made the difference in helping me prepare to be unified.
As a note, none of these friends are professionals or experts on the subject of unity. They aren’t even all that political. They are regular, wonderful friends just helping me along.
I want more than anything to see our country unified. But our desire for unity has to be more than a passing fancy. I know it’s going to take more than this simple article to get us there. It’s going to take real effort. It’s going to have to happen on multiple levels with real people making that individual effort to get us there.
And hey, my son isn’t the only one who can dream big.