"TRUMP RULES - DEMS SUCK!" That is what the individual who shared a story with me recently said he read on the back of the pickup truck he followed into the Home Depot parking lot.
"I stepped out of my car and pulled my bandana up over my nose and mouth," he continued with a slight edge to his voice. "And out of the corner of my eye, I see this guy open his door and jump down out of the truck, no mask, and start walking toward the entrance. I felt a desire to say something, yet thought I should probably refrain because anyone that would have to have a sign in their back window like he had and not wear a mask would probably welcome the confrontation and certainly neither of us would benefit from that."
As he shared, what began to go through my mind was how many conversations I have listened to that started off with a similar tone, whether it was coming from the vantage point of this individual sharing his experience or a 180-degree opposite view from someone talking about being forced to wear a mask or thinking "this whole pandemic is a hoax." It is obvious a line has been drawn, and most are on one side or the other.
My storyteller continued, "As I walked into the store, I grew even more disgusted as some had masks, others did not, and you could feel the weight of the political tension that this one choice seemed to symbolize. I came back to my senses, grabbed a lumber cart, and headed to the back of the store to pick out 12 6x6 timbers, all while feeling a disdain growing in me toward the people who I imagined to have the same feeling toward me. Loading timbers onto the cart is hard work by yourself, and after wrestling the first one on and reaching for a second, I noticed a young man come walking toward me with no mask and his sleeveless t-shirt with an American flag and caricature eagle with the words 'Just try and take my freedom away.' My first thought when I saw him was, 'Who has raised this kid to be so selfish?' It is such a simple thing to put on a mask. Such a simple gesture to protect one another and serve those among us who may be the most vulnerable. And then just as I lugged the first timber onto my cart, he walked over and asked if he could help. That one question 'Can I help?' cut right through all of the bias and negativity that had been building in my head toward him. It cut through all of the negativity that had been building in my head since I turned into the parking lot behind that truck. I thanked him as we loaded the timbers together. As I started to wheel away, his mom came walking up. We talked for a minute about timbers and the projects we were working on at home, and I then thanked her for raising such an awesome kid. I walked back to my car thinking that the world needs more people like the 15-year-old."
Quite a story, I thought to myself, and then with a single question he framed the current state of things today. "When and how did I learn to hate a person for having a different viewpoint than me?" He concluded with, "Just because we may not agree with what another person thinks or believes, we are destroying ourselves when we choose to hate the person for believing it."
As I sat at my computer late Wednesday afternoon trying to share this story in a way that would be meaningful for others to read, I struggled conveying the importance and depth of what this story is telling us. I decided to call my friend back and ask him if he had thought on the scene any more and see if he had any further insights we might benefit from. His response below is worthy food for thought, and I will leave it for you to consider further:
The lesson I really appreciated from the experience is that we've gotten to the point where one-half of the country thinks that the other half of the country are all idiots. Or even worse, that they are evil. This is true on both sides. It's easy to think that someone who is on the other side of the political line is more selfish or less caring than you are. But we're all acting from a place of wanting to do what we think is right for our loved ones and our country. That 15-year-old boy's willingness to just pitch in and help like it was the most natural thing in the world to do, goes above all of the divisiveness that we are being sold by political leaders. That is a value that is universally applicable. Always be ready to help. I like the story that Mr. Rogers tells: "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'"
It seems like it might be one of the most important values that we can be taught as children. Always be ready to help. And the kid in Home Depot certainly was. The thing that is concerning about this trend to think of half of the people in the country as idiots is that makes us feel irreconcilably different than them. And that feeling of difference can disrupt our inclination to pitch in and help.
The lesson in all of this is that we need to remember to trust each other. And trust that there is still good in a person, even behind a viewpoint that seems so heinous and different than our own. Fight against the leaders and ideologies that are dividing us, but don't hate one another. The more we do that, the more it amplifies the division. If we can remember to love one another regardless of viewpoint and always be ready to help, we will all be in a better place.
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." - Martin Luther King