‘Just because you can doesn’t mean you should” – sage advice at any time, but at this particular point in history, it seems even more appropriate. Every day we have choices. Some are simple, while others are disguised as opportunities to make mistakes. Unfortunately, it’s only after we make them that we find out how high the price is.
Our country is facing many choices right now and sometimes, we don’t choose wisely – and I say “we” because as divided as our country is, we are all still Americans. What happens to one ultimately affects us all.
The spirit of protest is in the American DNA – and most of the time we do it quite well – proudly, peacefully, and prayerfully. And sometimes we don’t. Buildings are burned, lives are lost, democracy is threatened, and the message is destroyed in the chaos. When that happens, we all lose and the good we could’ve gained is lost. Just because we can doesn’t mean we should.
Social media also makes the opportunity to make bad choices easier. As ‘birds of a feather flock together’, there becomes a tendency to think everyone feels the same way we do – so how we feel must be right. When we ‘scroll’ across someone who feels differently, our tolerance becomes diminished by a hot-fingered keyboard with a faceless screen and the need to one-up sinks into a litany of insults and personal attacks. Friends and family become enemies because suddenly, in the name of some perceived cyber justice, we’ve exposed our rawest thoughts to the world. Just because we can doesn’t mean we should.
We are all willing victims of a medium we can’t control – the overflow of information and misinformation in a communication world that we can’t make ourselves disconnect from. Most of us don’t even realize we’re victims and many will say we’re not, but we’ve lost the ability to trust what we see or believe what we hear because we are being fed a steady diet of the worst of us and we can’t stop digesting it. We have to find a way to break the bonds of hate disguised as information and reach through the screen and find some common ground with those we disagree with. Our enemies are no longer waiting to invade our shores. They are already here, hiding behind computer screens and conspiracy theories, bombing us with false information designed to make us hate each other and driving us to repeat a Civil War that we are still nursing wounds from – 160 years later. Given the technology and weapons available today, can you imagine what that war would look like – and what world we would be leaving our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren? Just because we can doesn’t mean we should.
I don’t have all the answers. No one does. Can we read a social media post and while wishing we didn’t know our friend felt that way and certainly not understanding why they do, learn to segregate that from the good person we’ve always known them to be – not because we’re a better person, but because that’s what a Higher Power demands? Can we admit to ourselves that sometimes our heroes aren’t and sometimes we just don’t prevail? Can we distance ourselves from radical conversations that will only end in a shouting match or hurt feelings? Can we realize that despite what a 24 hour news cycle implies, everything is not a crisis and everything is not worth arguing about? Just because we can doesn’t mean we should.
Yes, ‘if you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything’, but the lines are blurred as to what we’re standing for. Is it a flag? Is it a man? Is it an ideal? Is it a cause? How does your America look different than mine? Why is it us versus them? You versus me? Don’t we all have the same needs? Food, shelter, basic freedoms and respect – a good education for our children and a safe world for them to grow up in? Is that what we’re protesting for or have we become so entrenched in fear based rhetoric we don’t realize we are being manipulated by those with such naked ambition that they use our power in order to keep theirs and make us feel a scorched earth policy is the only solution? Just because we can doesn’t mean we should.
While protests are in our DNA, so is our ability to rise above our differences. Positive social change is slow – and hard – and seeing the world through someone else’s eyes is painful, but that’s what makes us as a country great. When we come together for a common cause, we are unstoppable. We are a beacon of hope for the world and a blueprint for what democracy looks like. History tells us what our country looks like when we can’t find common ground and we never want to go back there. Just because we can doesn’t mean we should.
We aren’t enemies. We are many spirits sharing one soul. To hurt one is to hurt all. We need to step back, take a breath and reach out to those who think different, look different, sound different, are different and find our common humanity. Our country is at a critical crossroads and we (all of us) have choices to make about how to move forward and the price our children will pay if we choose wrong. I pray we choose wisely. Just because we can doesn’t mean we should, but sometimes we should simply because we must.