There are so-called “radicals” on all sides of the ideological Merry-Go-Round. When we think of these boundary breakers, we conjure images of black hoodies concealing wire cutters and alcohol soaked bottle-rags; armed with paint cans ready to splatter messages of twisted corporate hate-speak. Some might call this the “radical left.” Others wear ties snaked around meticulously starched necklines with plastic smiles and a Bible in hand . . . eyes popping out as they sermonize the fire-wielding importance of moral sanctity and unregulated free markets. This would be the “radical right.” But there is a different radical quickly moving into town.
This type of radicalism doesn’t buy into the traditional “us vs. them” paradigm. It is fueled primarily by Millennials and dons armor of unity and empathy; clashing in conversation for the victory of understanding. It attacks corrupt systems, broken institutions, and failing norms without demonizing the (usually) well-intentioned or ignorant individuals that dwell within these categories. While there are undoubtedly a select few who deserve badges of shame and that must be held accountable, this group understands that most people are just products of their environments and not specifically out to do evil. It thinks in solutions that bring people together, not tear them further apart.
This brand of radicalism isn’t unknown to history, but has been seemingly dormant from the modern narrative. Others have come about at great times of sociopolitical (add environmental now) strife with a similar message. In 1978, on stage at a massive concert in Jamaica known as the One Love Peace Concert, Bob Marley famously united the leaders from two opposing political factions embattled in a bloody civil war. Before that night, Bob had friends from both political sides frequent his house in Kingston. There, he tried to find the common ground between them versus fueling their divisive hatred for one another.
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Martin Luther King Jr. refused to follow in the footsteps of early Malcolm X (pre-Mecca before he changed his mind) that promoted black separatism and white alienation as the only solution to the injustices perpetrated on African Americans. He opted instead to welcome his white brothers and sisters into the struggle for racial, and ultimately universal, equality. Even when criticized by his own kind for such actions, he knew intuitively that a nation divided cannot stand, and a humanity segregated from empathy was a humanity devoid of truth, love, and progress.
Traditional radicalism is relatively easy, even natural. It’s easy to fall into a category; to enlist with a team. It’s easy to color life in black and white; to create a common enemy to fight against. It’s easy to believe that you and those around you are right and moral, while others supposedly against you are wrong and immoral. It’s easy to paint the world with a vision that reflects your raw emotions. All this is easy, but it is not right. Every conversation with someone we once labeled or demonized illuminates some beautiful aspect of their being or clarifies a reason for their “strange thinking.” We find it is rarely a pathology of perversion or a morality of monstrosity, but the product of a complex life flavored with twists and turns that have led to a particular taste in thinking. With every authentic conversation, thoughtful question posed, and shared experience, we grow closer together and connect as human beings in ways that surprise us.
Ideological hatred and isolation have become a new form of subtle segregation here in America. We only watch programs, only read web sites and news sources that confirm our beliefs, not challenge them. We visit different churches, eat at different restaurants, live in different neighborhoods and interact with one another only as passing strangers on route to our destinations. The opportunities for interaction are boundless, yet we seldom make the effort.
We cannot afford as a society to sincerely believe that if one group replaces the other all will be well. We need those passionate movers and shakers from all sides to find common ground and thus common strength to face our collective human problems. Life is a tapestry of complexity woven from the multi-faceted fabric of souls blanketing this earth. We must co-exist in harmony; recognize that we all share fundamental truths, and take the radical steps to go beyond our comfortable boundaries into the unknown of others. Only then will we realize our illusions of division are but thin pieces of linen draped over the same human cloth. We must practice this “radicalism of together”; we must raise its flag to magnificent heights for all to see if we are to move this world forward.