“It’s only in mediocre books that people are divided into two camps and have nothing to do with each other.” From Dr Zhivago
My mother and I used to have horrific arguments about politics and religion. She blamed the problems of the world on the evil left. I, in turn, would blame those same problems on the evil right. Despite mom’s valiant efforts to raise me as a good, conservative christian boy, I had chosen to follow my own path. I had become a good, liberal, atheist man. She knew that she had helped me to achieve the “good” part but the remaining “liberal” and “atheist” parts were a constant source of bewilderment for her. In her mind one could not be both good and liberal at the same time. And yet here I was openly defying that belief. She survived this dichotomy with a mixture of denial, prayer, and hope.
The arguments between mom and I escalated once I moved to Europe and began to see the world in a much broader light than I had before. Despite her frustration with me mom always found a way to show her unconditional love. That love would come in the form of a “care package” arriving on my door-step on a monthly basis. The package would always contain food items not available in Europe. I’d open the package rabidly in search of Oreo cookies, Twizzlers, Dorito’s and, my favorite, Heinz 57 sauce. I would always find nestled among these culinary delights the latest literary offering from the likes of Goldwater, Kirk, Limbaugh, or some other conservative writer. I would respond in turn by sending mom Cadbury’s chocolate, Hobnob cookies and salt and vinegar potato chips, accompanied by books from my favorite liberals including Chomsky, Zinn, or Wolf.
We would both read our gifted books and then argue over our findings. Usually the only thing we could agree upon was the love between us. In the end our politics and religion could not divide us. This taught me that salvation would not come from either the left or from the right. It will come only from those of us who are willing to meet in the middle.
Nikolas, my caterpillar eye-browed, olive skinned friend poured me another steaming cup of liquid. That frothy, velveteen, nectar of the gods that the Greek swear is different from Turkish coffee. He looked me square in the eye with that unblinking, mesmerizing stare which only the Greek can muster and said: “The trouble with you Americans is that you just don’t know how to argue. You think that anyone expressing an opinion which differs from yours must be an enemy.” I couldn’t move my lips. I had no retort that would have been worthy of the effort spent. He was right. We set up these divisions: black and white, Republican and Democrat, Liberal and Conservative. Somehow these names that we’ve given to our petty differences create walls that we believe cannot be overcome. We seem to forget that underneath all the smoke and mirrors conjured by our politicians and religious leaders, we are all carting around the very same DNA.
Now Greeks, they know how to argue. So do the Italians, the French and the Spaniards. I’ve witnessed many, many debates in pubs and bars throughout Europe erupt into anger, fisticuffs and filth. I’ve seen men bloody each other’s noses and swear death by duel. I have also seen these same men, the very next day, hugging, kissing cheeks and buying each other drinks as if no argument had ever taken place. That rarely happens in my country. I wish that it would. Just a few short hours ago I opted out of a Facebook political discussion group because I just couldn’t stand the negativity, ignorance, and stupidity that I was witnessing there. I grew tired of watching as grown men were becoming bitter enemies. I couldn’t stand watching that wall being built.
Yes, I know I’m romanticizing. The various wars that constantly plague the European continent will attest that they do indeed have these walls over there as well. But isn’t it sweet to dream? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could learn how to argue? Maybe tomorrow we could pat each other on the back, buy each other a cup of that frothy Greek coffee and laugh about that debate we had last night?