What unites us is more important than what divides us
I’m not just a dad. I’m a brother to eight siblings. This Thanksgiving, I was able to see all of them as we celebrated my mother’s 90th birthday in New Jersey. With a family this big, there’s bound to be a wide range of political viewpoints, and these days we know how much trouble that can cause.
Fortunately, there was Smudgey. Smudgey was one of the many cats we grew up with back in the ‘70s, so named for the black smudge on his white lip. One of my sisters just sent me a picture of a rescue kitten that could have been his descendant. I saw the picture and was immediately transported back to our sad, silly, zany childhood. And I thought to myself: What if we let the toxic stew that is modern culture get between us? It’s not like we ever have had major differences, but the great cultural rift has become so common in our society these days, I could easily imagine it getting between me and some of my siblings. And that would be sad, because then we couldn’t commemorate Smudgey together and remember what a great cat he was.
Smudgey’s look-alike, Mikey, a rescue cat in New Jersey
Back here in Oklahoma, we’re shaping up for another legislative session, and another election cycle. We’ll hear the usual political canards tossed around. We’ll try to divide people into tribes by scaring them about what the other side is doing. We’ve got it down to such an art form that we even have people shouting at school board meetings and accusing teachers of indoctrination. Really? That kindergarten teacher is a Marxist? That baseball coach teaching American history wants your kid to hate America?
We’re in real trouble if we carry the scorched-earth tactics of our culture wars into our schools. They’ve always operated sort of like families, too. People inside them don’t always agree on much, but they agree on the purposes of education and service to community. Our teachers, support staff and administrators generally come from within our communities and become educators because they want to help people fulfill their potential. If we treat them like the enemy, we’ll lose them, just as so many of us have lost family because we brought political arguments inside the house. And who will take their place? Not the folks yelling at the school board meetings, I can assure you.
There have been times when I have struggled to understand a sibling. That’s when I need to remember good ol’ Smudgey. Whatever happens, we will share the memory of that cat, just as members of a community will remember ball games, school plays and report cards that wound up on the refrigerator. So don’t let the national division seep into our school systems and school boards. We all have to live here together, and what unites us is far more important than what divides us.
I think it’s time to tell my son about Smudgey and the importance of relationships. Maybe someday he and I will quarrel. When that happens, I want to be able to switch the conversation to talk about something else. Maybe we could talk about Aggie, the scrappy little mutt we rescued from the park that he loves so much.
John’s son, Van, with their dog, Aggie
Something to think about as we head into the new year.
John Waldron is an Oklahoma State Legislator, dad, and former teacher.