Time with broad range of people fosters dialogue instead of mere debate

We celebrate differences in our society, right? When is the last time you spent time with someone who was clearly different? Are you comfortable spending time in sports, music or other entertainment venues that cater to people different from yourself? I am not as comfortable as I would like to be. There are many reasons why.

Now, I want you to be honest with yourselves. Some will truly be able to say they regularly spend time with people different from themselves. Others will point to isolated instances and consider they are thus comfortable with differences.

Remember, I want — no, I need — you to be honest. Because we are the basis of how our society deals with differences. We are responsible for the state of affairs in this country, and I do not think that state of affairs is positive.

We have Donald Trump stating that Mexicans coming to this country illegally are rapists and murderers. He also says the Mexican government is encouraging these people to come over to rid its own country of these people. Are some who come over here rapists and murderers? Statistically, this is likely.

Both Donald Trump and Ted Cruz and many others voice the belief we should keep all Muslims from entering this country, because a few of them may be terrorists. Is it true some of those who may come to our country could be terrorists? Of course it is. Is this a reason to keep all Muslims out? I think not.

Freedom is expensive. Although I hope and pray it does not happen, we may let loose a terrorist or two in welcoming people who are different. I seem to remember we embrace the ideal of accepting the world’s tired and poor. Or at least we used to embrace that ideal.

And before you come to believe I intend to call out only those on the conservative side of things, let us talk about the abortion debate. The vitriol and name calling that comes from both the pro-life and pro-choice groups can sometimes be like a terrible shriek of indignation. Let us hear one another without assigning terrible meaning to what each has to say. Let us remember that among people on both sides of this debate there is genuine concern for the people they are trying to defend.

Guns are another issue that highlights our differences. It is all too easy to accuse one another of being irrational or ignorant. Again, that simply stops the debate, and we continue to shout at one another without resolution.

I believe this is good advice for Congress. Since we have become so obsessed with our people serving us in Congress not becoming professional politicians, they spend less time in Washington. While this has some benefits, I believe it has also brought some negative consequences.

Our legislators no longer spend time with one another in less formal settings. Whether that be the golf course, parties at one another’s Washington homes, or attending state functions, these were places people got to know one another as human beings and not simply as political opponents. This was the atmosphere that allowed Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill to forge some historic agreements across party lines.

I believe ending our focus on differences begins with each one of us. Examine your beliefs. Try to spend some time with those who are different. Listen to those who are different. You may learn something and become able to reduce the focus on our differences. This just might be how we begin to change the negative atmosphere in this country.

Jim Matthews is a long-time resident of Greenfield. You may share your comments at jem75@sbcglobal.net.