Americans seem to be overly fond of labels. We group ourselves and each other into little boxes labeled Conservative, Liberal, Moderate, Independent, Left wing, Right wing, Native-American, African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic-American, (I would have to be an English-Irish-Scots-little bit of Dutch-American), Christian, Muslim, Jew, Mormon, Agnostic, and so on and so on, ad nauseum.
Labeling ourselves may have developed from a mentality necessary for tribal survival originally. Now it may lead us to associations with those whom we feel most comfortable because they must be like us. Unfortunately, labels tend to limit us and worse, cause major divisions between us. They lead to stereotyping and misinformation.
For example, being labeled a Christian seems to be very straightforward. In reality however, there are many types of Christians. There are Catholics and Protestants and within that, there are those who feel that being saved is the mainstay of their belief. There are others who believe that living a life based on the example that Jesus lived is what constitutes true Christianity. As in other religions there are those who believe God is a god of love and those who believe God is vengeful and judgmental. And there are few who would admit to not knowing.
But ethnic and political labels seem to stir up the most divisive feelings. In many comments I've heard and in columns I've read, Democrat seems to equate to lazy, liberal bleeding heart, welfare state, big government lover, and Socialist loser. Republican seems to mean greedy, corporate loving, narrow-minded, legislate my morality, everyone else is evil obstructionists. Even Independents are considered wishy-washy rather than open-minded.
In the real world, not all Democrats are created equal, nor are Republicans. The vast majority of both political parties are hard working, family loving, patriotic folk who basically want to be left alone to live their lives, raise their families and practice their faith. Neither wants government to interfere in their lives but they do have some basic philosophical differences in what should be the function of government. But surprise, surprise! There are Democrats who own guns and believe in the second amendment and there are Republicans who don't belong to the NRA. There are Democrats who don't believe in abortion or welfare and Republicans who do. And there are those in both camps who don't think the definition of marriage should be legislated.
What concerns me is that there are those who cultivate and promote our differences with lies, distortions and downright hatred. They ignore everything we have in common. They love to stir things up for the sake of ratings and are not concerned with accuracy in their opinions and rants. They do this not for love of country or humanity but for power and profit at our expense.
Until we can see each other beyond the labels, until we can sit down and have a civil discourse about our ideas, until we can ignore the voices of intolerance and misinformation, we will not be able to solve the very real problems that confront us. We'll also miss out on the richness of our diversity and getting to know each other on a deeper level.
It is time to stop the harsh rhetoric and name-calling and get back to a commonsense approach of communication and civility.