In the locker room of the gym yesterday, three men changing their clothes near to me were talking about incidents of road rage and random anger they had witnessed. They were upset about how the mood on the street had changed since the last election. I could easily relate to the discussion and was relieved they seemed to be on “my side” of the political divide. But the remarkable thing was that on previous days I had felt suspicious of two of the three men. They had looked angry to me, aggressive, not on my side at all. Taking sides means sides to stay away from.
When politics gets as divisive as it is now, it reaches into almost every aspect of our lives. It’s not just online and newspapers, television and radio. It is on the street, in the gym, work, and travel. We don’t know from what side of the borderline of hate and division the driver of the car next to us might be or the person on the check out line behind us—or the policeman standing at the street corner. Hate and suspicion are contagious. This is one reason the level of anxiety and depression amongst college and k-12 students is at all-time highs.
And this is obviously not the first time the U. S. has been so divided. Think of the Civil War, the revolution, the suffrage, civil rights, and anti-war movements, etc. I grew up in the 1950s and 60s. Back then I was under the illusion I could discern sides by looking at the length of hair, the clothing, the age, and facial expression. All such illusions are shattered now, although sloganed t-shirts and confederate or Nazis flags speak all too clearly.
In December 1970, after vacationing in Berkeley, California, I had to return home to New York City. I didn’t have much money so I arranged for a drive-away car. It was easy to get such cars back then. In exchange for driving someone’s vehicle to their home for them, I could receive free transportation. An Englishman I had met in a theatre workshop, who I will call Adam, was going to share the ride with me.
Adam had met a woman, Nancy, and she wanted to go east with us. That was fine with me. What wasn’t fine was that Adam had developed a drug dependency. He had been on speed and other drugs for weeks. I told him we could only travel together if he stopped using. No drugs were allowed in the car. He agreed.
We left a few days after our talk. I started the driving. It was winter and a storm was forecast for that night so we had to get across the Rockies before the snows began. We drove south towards LA before turning east….
To read the whole story/personal essay, go to Heart and Humanity magazine, which published this piece.