It has been said that language is the cornerstone of society because it reflects the way we communicate. I think it is also a reflection of what we value. Consider classical romance languages. I’m learning French right now, and I have noticed that the language does not change to include new words; instead, keeps the new word in its existing form, no matter what the language is. In this way, the language preserves its integrity as the people protect the beauty of their culture. American English, on the other hand, has new words added all the time. It changes to reflect the vast cultural diversity of the country. English is confusing for non-native speakers to learn, and sometimes challenges us natives.
I wanted to bring up this point today, the 241st birthday of the country, because our values are being challenged from within. We are a country of immigrants, the first of whom arrived illegally, according to modern standards, and imposed ourselves on the existing residents, killing many of them in the process. That is a longstanding shame that we often conveniently forget when expelling so-called illegal immigrants from our borders.
As an academic, one memorable part of my training was seeking a variety of perspectives about any given topic, especially (and very importantly) from multiple countries and opposing viewpoints. Why? Discovering facts and seeking truth means considering and removing biases, even the ones of which we are unaware. Sometimes the process of discovery leads us to a place we didn’t expect to be and truths that may be uncomfortable.
I believe this search for meaning and definition of our country’s values is in a particularly vulnerable part of our growth. We are currently experiencing “growth pains.” I think these pains are the result of the tremendous strides we made in terms of cultural acceptance over the last few years. Some people are, understandably, afraid of that growth and what is implies for their own personal values. The natural reaction when faced with an upcoming change, especially when you perceive it to be threatening, is to “pull back” to a time you recall as being safe.
Our country’s government, led by a 71-year old who is used to getting his way, is demonstrating that reactionary behavior and is reacting somewhat predictably, if you consider their actions like a time when a child acts out. The press report on the actions of the leadership, and we citizens try to make sense of it. Those of us who fear change, often out of ignorance of the beauty that lies on the other side of the growth, have displayed many socially unacceptable behaviors varying from rude words to hate crimes and murder. If you consider those behaviors for what they are — the actions of fearful people led by a reactionary oligarch — they become more understandable. As any parent knows, when a child acts out, you find a way to stop the behavior before it can hurt anyone, especially the child. Then you try to find the source of the child’s fear and help them grow past it.
So I ask again, What are our values? We all clearly want the beauty, freedom, and acceptance for which countless people have fought and died. However, so many of us are afraid of the growth that will take us there and are blinded by the fear that manifests as bigotry, hatred, and war. I don’t have a quick answer for what will help us grow past the fear, but do know that we cannot experience true, sustained growth while so many of us fear where the growth will lead, fear losing something of value, fear losing the America they love.
If only we could find a way to assuage these fears, to assure a frightened people that growth is good. That moving forward does not mean losing what we value, but building on the beauty of what we have.
On this birthday of America, my wish is for a way to ease the growth pains in a way that minimizes further damage.