American Culture

An important life lesson, courtesy of Facebook and Amendment One

Facebook reminded me of an important lesson this morning.

When I was young, I was an idiot. A well-intentioned idiot, to be sure. And in my defense, it must be said that I was probably less of an idiot than most kids my age. But still, I look back on the things I did, the things I believed, the insecurities and the ignorance and the utter five-alarm cluelessness that once ruled my life like a petulant child emperor and I can’t help being embarrassed. I know, kids will be kids, and it’s true that there were moments of rampant joy that I will likely never equal again. Still.

Through the years I have learned. Lots. I’ve seen more of my country and even a bit of the world beyond, although not enough. I’ve met people from just about everywhere and gotten to know them a little. I’ve studied with, worked alongside of and learned from people whose belief systems were positively alien to anything I had ever encountered before in my life, and some of these people have become very close friends and respected colleagues. These people comprise a melange of labels. Hippies. Conservatives and liberals. Gays. Jews. Mormons. Foreigners: Europeans, Asians, Indians, Africans, Mexicans, Canadians. Socialists. Communists.

I’ll never forget the night I sat in a hot tub in Boulder with my Russian friend and colleague Peter and a visiting dignitary, a former Soviet field marshal, commander of the USSR air force, arguably the third most powerful man in the Soviet government. A man who, for years, had his finger on the red button that was aimed at my country. I don’t speak Russian and his English was suspect, but he turned out to be a pretty nice guy, all things considered.

I’ll stand the raw intellectual horsepower of my circle of friends, a collective that’s shot through with creativity and analytical genius from one end to the other, against any group of friends of any human on the planet. Stephen Hawking’s posse might be brighter than mine, but probably not by as much as you’d expect. Not only that, but my personal network is driven by a level of empathy and humanity that humbles me. My friends are as decent and kind and generous as they are brilliant.

As a result of these kinds of experiences and my fortunate association with such an impressive class of human being, I have grown. I have matured. I have been enlightened. I have been horribly wrong and come away better because those who were smarter than me and better than me showed me the error of my thoughts and actions. I’m no longer captive to the hateful, ignorant ideologies and dogmas that so diminished the younger me. I like to think I have attained a small measure of wisdom, even, although not nearly as much as I need.

Still, the day is young and my mind is open. I’m a lucky guy.

I suppose some part of me thinks back to the friends of my youth and figures that they, too, have been enlightened by life. That the educational foundation we shared at Wake Forest University, one of the nation’s elite institutions, catapulted them all to a more ennobling way of thinking and relating to the world. Wake’s motto is Pro Humanitate – “for humanity” – and those two little Latin words are as sufficient a set of walking papers as any graduate should ever need.

Of course, that isn’t how it necessarily works out, is it? I imagine we all know people who seem, over the course of their adult lives, to regress when it comes to enlightening ideals. I personally have seen the arrival of children, for instance, jack people’s minds back to the Stone Age. I’ve heard any number of women, new mothers, say that having kids makes you stupid, and I have seen the evidence to support it. It’s not just a woman thing, either – parenting can take dad down the rabbit hole, too.

No, this isn’t always the case. Some of the women who have said these very words to me actually seemed smarter than ever, and I’ve seen adulthood and parenthood accelerate the process of enlightenment, too, as intelligent people contemplate the world their children must now inhabit. Fear plays a role in both tracks, I think, although the latter is a smattering of fear tempered by a boatload of hope.

Yesterday was a bad day for my home state, North Carolina, which voted by a 60-40 margin to deny basic human rights to a significant segment of its population. May 8 will be a stain on the soul of the Old North State for all time and I suspect it will tee up an economic curse in the form of boycotts against NC businesses. If you operate a conference center that attracts out-of-state meetings, for instance, yesterday probably cost you a lot of money. Given the economy and unemployment situation at present, this is something Tar Heels could ill afford.

I think I made my opinion on matters clear enough in the post linked above, and I think most of my circa 2012 friends concur wholeheartedly. However, Facebook allows us to find and connect with those old friends I mentioned earlier. People we went to high school and college with. Long lost family members. People we dated. Played soccer with, partied with, worked with. Sometimes these reconnections are great – we really liked those people and it’s great to have them back in our lives, if only electronically. They’ve lived. They’ve grown. The potential they exhibited as young men and women has been fully realized.

But then there are those who haven’t grown or matured or learned. They’re fundamentally the same as they always were. Or worse, they have, as I noted above, regressed. Their world view has narrowed, constricted by religion and money and fear. Maybe they’re still nice enough personality-wise, or maybe they have morphed into something seething and overtly hateful, a few words making it uncomfortable to even contemplate their lives today or the path that ushered them to what is clearly a personal micro-hell.

This morning, via Facebook, one of my reconnected friends from way back when told me that he “voted for love between a man and a woman.” I’m sure that’s what he thinks he did.

I can’t change this guy. I can’t help him, I can’t fix him. He was stubborn 25 years ago and recent interactions suggest that he’s only grown more certain of the justness of his convictions. I don’t know that anything in the world can change his mind on this one, unless some day one of his children, whom he clearly loves dearly, says to him, “Daddy, I’m gay.” At that point, who knows?

All I can do is contemplate this lesson that I guess I’ve known all along, but haven’t spent much time contemplating lately. So thanks, Facebook, for reminding me that some people change and others don’t, and that not all of the ones who change do so for the better.

The “Friend” button is so easy, the “Unfriend” button so hard….

2 replies »

  1. Sam, I can relate. I’ve only unfriended one person–a former colleague and f2f friend. He posted the “I’m praying for Obama” message with the link to the prayer that hopes his wife becomes a widow and his children, orphans. I hate to say it, but I did not want my modern friends to think I in any way condoned his pov and I did not want to have to put up with it.

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