When you go on a journey, you discover that the world is full of dangerous people.  My life has been no different.  I’ve come far and faced off against many villains.

For example, when I was a child, I was told that evil American capitalists wanted to drop a nuclear bomb on me.  But then I moved to a different land and found out that it was, in fact, evil Russian Communists who wanted to drop a nuclear bomb on me.  That was confusing, but then things got even more complicated.

When I lived by the northern European seas, abortion and gay rights were considered good things, and anybody who opposed them was strange.  But when I lived in the American desert, I learned that abortion and homosexuality were sins, and anybody who supported them was immoral.  Now I live by the Pacific Ocean, and once again it’s those who are too religious and too traditional that are suspect.  I’m having a hard time keeping track of all this.  Maybe it would be easier for me to tell the good guys and the bad guys apart if I had stayed in one place and didn’t move around so much.

What makes it even harder is that so many people wear magical disguises and are not what they seem.  For instance, those who aren’t Christian aren’t really American, even though they pretend to be.  Just like those who aren’t Catholic aren’t really Polish.  Ah, but hold on–it’s not enough to know that someone is wearing the Christian label.  If they are liberal, they aren’t really Christian.  You see how tricky this gets.

Now I feel as if I’m living in a cursed time, because everyone is starting to look like an enemy.  The conservatives aren’t true patriots and neither are the progressives.  I’m supposed to be on the watch for thieves who will steal my money through taxes and robbers who will steal my work by paying me too little for it.  There are hawks who want to attack everyone and doves who want us to get attacked.  Gun nuts want to shoot me, but then again I hear that those who favor gun restrictions want to see me defenseless and shot.

So how do I move forward on my way when I’m surrounded by dragons?  Could it be?  Is it possible that I’m the only one who’s right and everybody else is wrong?  After all, many wise men and women around me are making this claim–that they are the only ones who hold the key to true knowledge.

Believing that those who think differently from you are monsters to be fought is one way to journey through this world.  I find the travelling lighter and easier when I don’t carry all that heavy weaponry with me, though.  The dragons are imaginary anyway–they’re just imperfect human beings, a lot like me–and our battles are unnecessary.

It seems I need to go over the basics again, as too many out there in Interwebz land still don’t get it–

Just because someone has a different political point of view from you, it doesn’t mean that person is:

Asleep.  This one drives me crazy–it’s the belief that someone “wakes up” only when they come to agree with you.  It’s entirely possible that people who have been very awake all their lives have simply been awake to different ideas and experiences than you have, especially if they come from a different culture.  In fact, our interaction with each other may be a way for both of us to wake up to thoughts we didn’t know about.  Speaking of which, don’t make the assumption that the person who disagrees with you is…

Ignorant/uninformed.  I ingest news and analysis from a wide variety of sources, spanning all sides of the political spectrum–everything from the BBC to conservative talk radio to my pitiful addiction to C-Span.  I have met many well-informed and intelligent individuals who just happen to draw differing conclusions from the information they learn.  The world is a complicated place–none of us see the complete picture.

Mentally ill.  I know, I know–it’s everybody else who’s insane, right?

Less than human.  There is a long list of names used to accomplish this–sheeple, zombies, robots.  The goal is always the same–to dismiss those who disagree with you as not quite human.  Are you really that afraid of people with other opinions, so afraid that you can’t acknowledge they exist?  That speaks to insecurity in your own views, not confidence.

Evil.  True evil is done in our world, and the word should be reserved for those situations, otherwise the very concept is cheapened.  You may think the person who supports government health care is misguided, but they are likely not evil.  On the other hand, when you allow yourself to think of other people in dehumanizing ways (see above), doing evil can become easier.  After all, you’re not imprisoning or killing humans–just rats, zombies, etc….

So those are a couple of pointers to keep in mind as we debate each other.  When you debate, make a logical argument about the issue, which will make your side of the debate stronger anyway.  Name calling will always detract from what you have to say. 

And remember that what you’re thinking of the person you’re debating–that caricature you’ve formed of them in your mind–it isn’t true.

My family recently received an e-mail from relatives in Poland telling us how the “true Polish national identity” is the Catholic one, and going so far as to say that anyone outside that Catholic identity is not only indifferent to the well-being of the country, but might in fact be an evil Commie.  (Sound familiar?)  Being that my parents have for most of their lives been practitioners of Buddhism and yoga, this rubbed them the wrong way.  When my mother tried to suggest that perhaps non-Catholics, atheists, gay and Jewish people should also have a place in Polish society, the relative came back with the pleasant response that he hoped those atheists, gays and Jews would be well served by the euthanasia and abortion they so strongly believed in.

This is a growing movement in Poland right now, and many of our old friends—people who used to be rebels and freethinkers—are more and more often making these kinds of shocking statements to us.  Of course, all I have to do is turn on the right radio station or website here in America and I can hear all about how this is a Christian country and only those who are Christian in the correct way are truly a part of it.  Except that over here this kind of talk will be prefaced by the disclaimer that the talker believes in everyone’s right to have a different opinion or belief…it’s just that those with the different opinion are a “darkness” or a “cancer”.  And a cancer needs to be removed from the body, right?

Is it just me, or does anybody else feel the gathering stormy weather?  That pounding drumbeat of “those who are not like us”?  I suppose that drumbeat is always there, but there are times when it seems to flare up, and right now the tension is building up so tight it feels like the planet needs to clear its sinuses.  Then again, since the sinus-clearing usually entails a world war of some sort, maybe it’s better if we remain clogged.

One thing we cannot do is allow ourselves to be fooled by the relative calm.  After all, Western Europe in the 20th century was a very polite, civilized society as well, wasn’t it?  For now we still smile at each other on the train and give each other the fake “I’m doing great!”  In a moment of real crisis, how quickly could that turn into “You are the problem and you need to go”?  It has happened over and over again.

Maybe those times of horror are part of a strange birthing process by which our species grows.  Hey, I have the right to delude myself as much as anyone else.  All I know is that no matter where you go, you will always meet that group of people which needs to hold on to some type of dogma to be secure.  And I have met those people both on the right and the left, by the way.  I’m from Poland, so I’ve dealt with real Commies, not the bugaboo ones that conservatives invent over here.  No matter which side the true believers are on, they are bound by one common quality:  they can’t handle it when someone else thinks differently from them.  It rocks their world too much.  They lash out against it.  Under certain circumstances, they even kill.

And no matter which time we live in, it is the duty of those of us who don’t have a closed mind to stop them from doing so.  It may be a struggle which never ends.  And probably one I’m not strong enough for.