Practicing Advanced Citizenship

AmericanPresidentI spent last night watching one of my favourite movies: The American President – and about half through I realized that President Shepard’s words are more important now than ever. President Shepard, A.J., and  Sydney Ellen Wade taught me a lot of good lessons in my youth: men should always bring flowers (no matter how hard it is to actually order them), you should always avoid Dupont Circle, and most importantly, everyone should be allowed to speak their mind in a respectful manner, no matter how much others disagree.

America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say.” You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can’t just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the ‘land of the free.”

In this week of monumentally important Supreme Court decisions, I have once again been thinking about how we communicate with each other and whether it is a respectful as it should be. Out are the days of letters, phone calls, and face to face communication, and in with texting, posting, commenting, and communicating complicated ideas with a meme. And, as I have said in the past, something has been lost in translation.

I am constantly harping on the fact that it’s easier to be a jerk to a computer screen than to someone’s face. Before hitting “share” or enter, I wish everyone would just take a second to breathe. Think about what you’re saying. Have you really paid attention to what you’re commenting on or sharing? Does it accurately portray your thoughts and personality? Is it helpful? Does it make sense? If I get offended by something I see online, I try to take a second to think about why I am so bothered before letting loose. Is it touching on something I am personally involved in or struggling with? Am I offended because I wish it wasn’t true? If I can say yes to either of those questions, I file my feelings away as a personal issue I should deal with offline, not in front of an audience. If the post is truly offensive, I do my best to logically explain my opinion.

I’m not saying that works for everyone, or even in every situation. I’m just trying to illustrate that everyone struggles with communication and that there are better ways to live than constantly at odds with each other. And don’t misunderstand me- I love talking to people who have different opinions. I love learning why people think differently and hold those opinions that I would spend a lifetime opposing. I want to live next to these people and I want my daughter to be raised in a house that embodies the  “Hey, we might not agree but we can still share a beer as friends.” philosophy.

After all is said and done, the most sound advice I give you is to avoid Dupont Circle. It’s murder this time of day.

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