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I said the Pledge of Allegiance twice this week. Both times I couldn’t help pondering the Nazi and Confederate flags brazenly displayed at the protests in Virginia. Here’s my question: how does one declare allegiance to the flag of the United States of America—one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all—and then turn around and flap some other flag in the name of your personal biases? I’m pretty darn proud of my ancestry, but I’m not going to hang an Irish, German or British flag on my porch. Why? Because those flags don’t represent my identity as an American. Just a thought.
A Facebook friend posted something Tuesday that gave me pause: “32 million Americans have never been to a major U.S. city. One in four have never been to a national park or landmark. 25 million Americans have never seen the ocean. No wonder we have such significant divisions in our country; we have no idea what other’s lives look like.”
Spanish philosopher and writer Migeul de Unamuno put it this way: “Fascism is cured by reading, and racism is cured by traveling.”
For me, traveling is always a wake-up call. People are people, no matter their color, religion, gender or socio-economic status; our similarities far outweigh our differences. At the bare minimum we all need food, water, shelter and clothing.. After that it’s a crapshoot and none of it really matters. Our belief systems, our political philosophies and our opinions become luxuries in the face of basic survival. Unfortunately, most of our travel experiences are so whitewashed and sanitized we rarely see how the “other side” actually lives.
Fascism, defined by Merriam-Webster, is “a political philosophy, movement, or regime … that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.”
If de Unamuno, who died in 1932, is right, it’s disturbing to consider that 26 percent of adult Americans have not read a book (in any form—print, electronic or audio) in the last year. Those with a high school diploma (or less), Americans ages 50 or older, men in general, rural residents and adults with an annual household income of less than $30,000 are most likely to report not having read a book in the last 12 months according to pewresearch.org.
We might not have the wherewithal to travel, but we can all (I hope) read. Go to the library. Check out a book, preferably in a genre and/or subject that doesn’t agree with your personal bias, and read it with an open mind. Then go get another one, and another one, and another after that, and keep reading. Read books that make you laugh, and cry, and yell, and don’t stop reading. Read old books and new books. No time to read? Me either. That’s what audio books are for. Listen while you drive, while you walk or when you lie down at night. Think of it as a vaccination for your brain—one without side effects, unless, of course, you’re a fascist.