It seems like my summer break from school has just begun and here we are, almost to Independence Day Eve. That's not an actual thing, but you know what I mean. I always thought of July 4th as kind of the midpoint of summer vacation. In no time, we'll start to see youth and school football, soccer, and volleyball teams practicing; gardens and yards start to die out; and that faint but unmistakable scent of the approaching-faster-than-seems-possible autumn. I don't mind as much as I did when I was a kid. I was always a worrier and, sadly, I didn't enjoy the part of of summer after the Fourth because I spent a lot of time counting down how many days of "freedom" I had left before I had to go back to prison. The irony of how much I hated school is not lost on me at all.
But I digress. The Fourth of July is a great day to contemplate the meaning of being American. I'm a patriotic guy. I believe that, when we're at our best, the US is an amazing place to live as well as an outstanding global neighbor. How often we're at our best is a question to be answered by people much more thoughtful and political than I. We are a place where you are free to do and be what you believe in, as long as whatever you do and are doesn't infringe on the right of other people to do and be what they believe in.
At least we were. It feels like what it means to infringe on someone else's rights has been changed in my lifetime, and not always for the better. It used to be that we didn't have the right not to be offended by someone else because not being offended isn't a constitutionally defensible right. It's something you get over, not something you go to court to get redressed. Yes, there's bullying, which is reprehensible and shouldn't be tolerated, but being offended by someone's simply being who they are is a completely ridiculous concept. Even if that person is a horrible, horrible person, as long as what they do and believe isn't in itself illegal or harmful to others, that's not something that you legally force the to change. Disagree with them? Sure. That's your right. It's almost your obligation. It's what we should do here in the United States. Discuss. Hash out. Disagree. Agree to disagree. But to have the law intercede because their ideas are "dangerous" in that they don't match yours--well, that's un-American.
So this weekend, as we approach Independence Day, let me encourage you to consider your rights, but also to consider your obligation to protect the rights of others. Please consider the possibility that, even if you think someone's opinions or beliefs are un-American, they have the right to have those beliefs and opinions right up until the moment they actually do something to bring down our country. And if you feel like someone else's opinions or beliefs make you feel like less of a person, you have the right to disagree with those beliefs, vocally. Speak out. Stand up. Prove them wrong.
But please don't try to squash that other person's opinion. You're not going to change their minds by being louder. There's a really good chance you aren't going to change their minds at all. Human beings aren't really great at that. But if you do have a chance, it's going to be by proving through calm words and consistent actions that your beliefs are right. Every racist or misogynist or xenophobe who changed their mind did it because they were taught, through words from those they respect and through actions of others that show the error of their attitudes, that categorizing people by one attribute is narrow-minded and wrong, not because a bunch of the people they want to oppress yelled at them and got their rights taken away.
That got a lot closer to political than I usually go. Mainly because I believe in your rights to be who you are so much that I hesitate to push my beliefs on others. But because I believe in that inalienable human right so much, I thought I should take the time to defend it.
I hope I didn't offend you.