A few months ago I was invited to join a breakfast group that has been meeting every Friday morning for the last 30 years. It’s one of those gatherings of old men who get together once a week to pontificate over a cup of coffee about how to solve all the world’s problems. Apparently, my recent need for a regimen of physical therapy now qualifies me for membership in the “old guys” club.
Although there’s nothing inherently political about the breakfasts, in this hyperpartisan time, it’s almost inevitable that politics becomes a topic of conversation. A recent discussion turned to the Second Amendment and the issue of gun control. One of the more libertarian guys said he would feel considerably safer if everyone at the table was carrying a concealed handgun. Our friend confidently believes that each of us being armed at all times would make everyone more secure.
Of course, if you knew these gentlemen like I do, I’m not sure anything would make you feel less safe than any of these particular guys holding a gun. More seriously, though, although most everyone at the table is a hunter, many vehemently argued that placing greater restrictions on guns is the best way to keep our community safe.
The irony is that despite the political differences at the surface, deep down everyone at that breakfast table has a common human desire to keep our families safe. We all share that same basic value. Our difference is over which political decision best fulfills that value.
I have many friends who have a visceral reaction whenever they hear someone proclaim on television that Second Amendment rights should be uncompromising and supreme. These friends conclude that gun-rights advocates don’t care about the safety of our families or our children. They conclude that these people have an irrational attachment to guns, and that their motives must be nefarious and their values corrupt because anyone who disagrees with the righteousness of their political choice could not possibly share their values.
Put more succinctly, many of my friends want people to put their guns away because it’s the best way they know to keep our families safe.
The irony is that most of the people who carry a concealed handgun are doing so for exactly the same reason. They carry that gun because they believe it is the best way they know to keep our families safe.
We will disagree as to who is right and who is wrong. We should also stand up for what we believe to be right. Yet we should not be so willing to immediately conclude that the other side must be evil just because its political position differs from our own.
Even though I may disagree with some of my friends at that Friday breakfast table, I know they love their children just as much as I love mine. We all want to keep our families safe. Although our political choices on how best to achieve that goal might differ, we share a common set of values.
Too often we equate the policy choices of our side of the political aisle with what it means to be a patriotic American. The politicians and political media portray our differences not as a difference of opinion, but as a battle between the light and the darkness. In an effort to win elections and increase TV ratings, we’ve been told that we’re in the middle of a war between the forces of good and evil. Unfortunately, once our politics becomes our moral identity, it becomes impossible to compromise because in a fight between good and evil, good does not compromise with evil.
We are losing sight of the shared values that bind us together as Americans. We are acquiescing to the partisan political interests that are trying to pull us apart for their own electoral or financial gain.
After a particularly raucous conversation one Friday morning, a man at the next table felt compelled to interrupt us. He was visiting Door County for the weekend and said he couldn’t help but eavesdrop on our discussion.
“This is the way America is supposed to be,” he said. “People arguing for what they think is right, yet still sitting at a table together as friends.”
Maybe at that Friday-morning breakfast group, we really are helping to solve the world’s problems. Not by coming up with solutions – goodness knows you shouldn’t trust any of the ideas that we might come up with. Rather, by recognizing that although good people will sometimes disagree about political choices, we are all still Americans – and friends – who love our country and our families. We must remember that what unites us is still far greater than what divides us.
This column by Bret Bicoy originally appeared in the Peninsula Pulse on January 3, 2020.