I was lucky enough to see Brene Brown speak when she was in Austin as part of her book tour for Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. While this woman and her work always rock me to my core, hearing her again watered a seedling idea, now taken deep root. Brown talked about the “either you’re with us or you’re against us” mentality. How effective it is and always has been. But that it’s also a lie meant to “keep us in our lanes”, within our factions and far from introspection, alignment – and thus – real connection or change.
I’m guilty of this. Especially since November 2016. On the ballot that Tuesday, our country was given the opportunity to vote OR. And we did; a process more polarizing than anything most of us, aged 18 or 80, have ever seen. After the tears dried, a profound fear took residence in my heart, where I lit and lifted tiny pitchforks to light my way through a new dark. I doubled down. I solidified my tribe. I looked to the world and the winds for my “enemies”, finding them closer to home than I liked. I let this influence how I loved and lived the past year. I’m not proud of it. I have all sorts of reasons. Some make me feel righteous. Others sad and afraid. But many back me into the corner of OR where copious conundrums reside.
You support our President OR you’re un-American
You question/protest elements of our country OR love it and support those who served
You’re pro-life OR pro-choice
You’re pro OR anti-gun (violent OR peaceful)
You’re pro-Police OR Black Lives Matter
You’re Christian OR immoral
You’re liberal OR racist/misogynistic/homophobic
You’re conservative OR unpatriotic/not devout
Or, or, or. Everywhere it’s OR.
What if we didn’t always have to hunker in our bunkers? What if, we were able to not to only live by the OR but also by the AND?
Case in point. I’m from Texas, home to arguably one of the best sports rivalries of all time, (though it’s sadly paused). Texas A&M and the University of Texas have long fought, played, and taunted each other. You can love the Aggies OR the Longhorns. Not both. This became problematic when I, burnt orange by blood, became a turncoat in College Station. And though it was fun family ribbing on game-days, I could never fully subscribe to the notion that I had to loathe the Longhorns. A good thing too as mine is a house divided where despite these line-in-the-sand differences, my Hook ‘Em husband and I have come together to create a life we both cherish, raising two precious hybrids.
I know college football is a trivial example. But on many issues, I’m smack dab in the midst of a similar paradox. I love our country, come from a lineage of veterans with all the pride and honor that entails. AND I acknowledge it needs work, and that patriotism doesn’t depend on blind faith. I am a pacifist who supports further, common sense gun control AND I live and love with a kind man who oft provides food for our family through hook, bow and bullet. I can see the good in a group AND take any individuals within doing horrific things to task. I honor the deep sanctity of both life and choice, as well as the impact and consequences of each. I believe in and worship God with all my fractured, humble heart AND I identify as a liberal. I am behind our troops, police and other first responders AND I support true equal rights, the abolishment of racism/prejudice and any peaceful means necessary to solidify what should be self-evident truths.
Yes, I still have my flashpoints, as do all of us. The ones that make us yell “this is not ok” to cosmos, congregations or computer screens, demanding we take action. And we will not always agree on what these are. But by making everything volatilely important, we desensitize ourselves and each other to when it is actually time to take a real stand.
I think this is the wilderness Brene Brown describes; a giant swath of glorious gray in our black and white world. It’s uncomfortable and terrifying. Yet I can’t help but wonder if there aren’t more of us out here. AND that together we might help change the world.