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Let Live and Live

Let Live, and Live

The expression is, of course, “live and let live,” but these days, after years of being subjected daily to the rhetoric of divisiveness, victimization, blame-shifting, “alternative facts,” fear-mongering, and scapegoating in the infantile pursuit of “America First,” we need to invert the adage to retrieve its wisdom. So polarized have we become here in the U.S., so ready to cast in the role of enemy anyone who is outside the traditional mainstream or disagrees with our position that the nation has torn itself in half—politically, philosophically, and spiritually. All but gone is that mature, self-possessed stance that can disagree without being disagreeable. Now more than ever, we need to rediscover and heed the voice of our better angels.

Empathy is a great healer. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to feel vicariously how migrant families at the southern U.S. border felt when in the name of a heartless policy, they were dragged from each other and incarcerated. Never mind for a moment the political justifications that were used to sell this brutality—rather, stay focused on the immediate human impact of children, of babies, being thrown into cages. Imagine it happening to you, to your children, your babies. Imagine feeling electrocuted with fear, worry, and grief over not knowing where your children have been taken, where they are, if they are all right, if they are even alive. Try it on, and see if your politics holds up. Zero-tolerance, in truth, was zero-empathy. We denied these families their humanity, and by doing so, we denied our own. And this is only one of many horrors that we have allowed. Systemic racial injustice has hardened our hearts to the conditions that made it necessary to insist that black lives matter. Violence against women, against indigenous peoples, against LGBTQ individuals and couples, against Muslims confesses an abject lack of empathy and the tragic failure to recognize that, as I wrote in a song for my daughter on her twenty-first birthday, “we’re each a little different, but we’re all a lot the same.” Sadly, this soul-sickness has gone viral, a second pandemic that may well be more lethal than the first.

It is easy to demonize, because it takes no thought, no consideration, no consciousness. As Martin Buber writes, “Hatred remains blind by its very nature; one can hate only part of a being.” To put reaction on hold long enough to see through the projections, to remember that all are equally human, that we share the same longings, fears, vulnerabilities, and dreams is to return to empathy. We all want to live and be well. We all love our children and want them to be safe and to thrive. The moment we are unwilling to let others live, we ourselves stop living. Is it not obvious? The suffocating constrictions in the psyche that profile and scapegoat and dehumanize others close us off not only to them, but also to our own heart. And one cannot live without a heart. In this way, hate destroys itself. The hubristic pursuit of power at the expense of others ultimately disempowers. As we are now seeing, the dialectical pendulum swings far only to swing back.

No one can serve two masters, Jesus admonishes. If we wish to live, we must let others live, since what we do to each other, we do to ourselves. It is past time for us, all of us, to open our eyes and see again the humanity in each other. Most Americans, regardless of how they voted, are decent, hard-working, well-meaning people who themselves have felt marginalized, disenfranchised, and disaffected—an inevitable consequence of late-stage capitalism. Both parties, Democrats and Republicans, are guilty of having enabled and perpetuated a system that favors the few at the expense of the many, that gives itself more to “us” against “them” than to the inclusive and saving “we.” And “we” means all of us—no one excluded, no one left behind. At this crucial moment in history, for the sake of the nation and the world, in the face of a devastating pandemic and climate change threatening the planet itself, with populism and intolerance on the rise giving fear an easy path to power, we must stop and ask ourselves if we are willing to let others live, simply that—to give as we wish to receive. Whether we like it or not, whether we acknowledge it or not, we are in this together. The pandemic along with the erupting pushback of xenophobia, misogyny, and racism have proved this beyond question. In saving others, we save ourselves. Let us not waste another day.