Somewhere in the rural, mountainous countryside of the Pacific Northwest, there is an organic kale farm situated on a commune. This kale farm is 100% organic and self-sustaining. It is run by a gang of tie-dye wearing, dread growing, 20-something-year-olds “hippies” who left their previous lives because they felt the call of a simpler, more sustainable existence. These farmers sell their kale to the local organic food store, which then sells it to community members for their post-yoga smoothies. On the weekends, the yoga goers, market owners, and kale farmers meet at the local coffee shop to drink fair trade organic coffee. Everyone is friendly and loving and sees the value in self-expression and doing what you love. While they sit sipping their coffee, they vent to each other about how the big corporations are ruining the environment. They talk about how capitalistic greed is making the rich richer and the poor poorer, and how far our nation still has to go before we consider all races, genders, ethnicities, and sexual orientations equal in the eyes of the law and one another. They’ve never voted for a Republican in their lives and attribute our problems to the “heartless conservatives” who are setting back valuable progress, and only dream of a world where liberal policy reins king.
Meanwhile, somewhere in the farmland of Nebraska, a middle-aged man wipes the sweat from his brow after a long day of work harvesting the corn his family has been growing on their homestead for four generations. Corn farming is all he has ever known; his father was a farmer, his father’s father was a farmer, and his grandfather’s father was a farmer. Every night, after a long days work, he comes home to his family and eats a steak cut from the local butcher who buys from the cattle farm in town. After dinner, he meets his friends from the farm bureau at the local bar where they vent about how corporations like Monsanto are destroying the American farmer. They are collectively frustrated with the elites in Washington who don’t seem to do anything but bicker and waste their hard-earned tax dollars. They may not have a fancy degree, but their inherited folk wisdom has worked for as long as they can remember and don’t see much use in changing it now. They’ve worked hard their whole life and never complained once. They’ve never voted for a Democrat, and despise the “millennial and liberals” who’d rather have something handed to them than to work for it, and only dream of a world where hard-working, common sense conservatives ran the country.
Conventional wisdom and popular thought has pitted these groups against each other. Each is the cause for the problems we face in this country, and if only the other thought as they do, the country would be a better place. These two groups exist in separate worlds that will probably never intertwine, making it all too easy to press blame without a second thought. They think they have nothing in common with each other, from the clothes they wear to the morals they teach their children to the politicians they support. But what if their paths were to cross and they were able to break down the barriers of appearance and have a conversation; what would that look like?
After the harvest of this season’s kale, the hippies decide to celebrate by embarking on a cross-country road trip, starting in the Northwest and ending in Brooklyn, where one of their friends owns a community garden and co-op. They pack their Subaru with the necessities and head off, excited to experience the natural beauty of this country.
After spending a night in Grand Teton National Park, they spend the day driving east with plans to lay their hats wherever they feel is a good spot. As the sun sets and the moon rises, they pull into a small farm town in Nebraska, looking for a place to grab a quick bite to eat. Although complaints are circulating the car about being in a drive-through state that only cares about corn and Corn Huskers football, they see no choice but to stop. To their disappointment, they find no organic foods store, but rather, a local bar and restaurant boasting of having “the best corn on the cob and hamburger in Nebraska”. They walk in and are greeted by stares from a group of rugged looking men sitting at the bar. Out-of-towners aren’t too frequent there, so seeing anyone they didn’t recognize was strange, let alone a group of dread-headed hippies. But not to be evaded by their Midwestern hospitality, the group of travelers is greeted warmly and their order is taken. Both groups sneak condescending looks and muddle sarcastic remarks amongst themselves, bringing themselves closer together and the other farther apart. However, their comments are unthreatening, if not harmless, and both groups mind their own business and go about their separate lives.
That is, until one of the local farmers overhears the hippies talking about a piece of news they read about a corporation that is using GMO’s and its deep pockets to take over the Midwestern farmland, in turn bankrupting the local farmer. He hears the disgust in their voice and strikes up a conversation about how him and his friends at the bar are the ones being directly effected by this. Both groups start talking, and a strange thing starts to happen: they find that they are more similar than different. They both believe that supporting local businesses is better than buying from corporate superstores. They both work on farms and have an appreciation for and connection to the land. They both know where their food comes from and who cultivated it. They talk about how bad the influence of money in Washington has gotten and how the everyday person is being left behind. They both care deeply about their friends, family, and community, and believe it’s their job to look after one anther—because if they don’t, no one will. And finally, they talk about the importance of being a good person and living true to your morals.
The groups end up staying until bar close, leaving the place laughing and poking fun at how ridiculous at each other’s appearances are, as old friends would do. Before heading back to their separate lives, they finish with a handshake and well wishes on their respective journeys. While the famers will still never vote for a Democrat and the hippies will still never vote for a Republican, they feel as if they gained a sense of perspective, and more importantly, a new set of friends.
In a world with a “with us or against us” mentality, demonizing the other has become all too easy. Empathy is seldom considered or employed, partly because we surround ourselves with like minds, and partly because it causes us to reflect on ourselves. We’ve thought one way our whole life and it’s worked just fine; why would we need to empathize with a “dirty hippie” or a “Midwestern farmer”? Because when we do, we find that people are people, and no matter what part of the country—or the world—they come from, and there are certain morals and values that transcend borders and are rooted not in town, state, or nation, but are rooted in human goodness.
The current divide in our nation is deep-rooted and destructive. If we ever wish to heal our wounds, we must decide to embrace the good in one another rather than dwelling on our differences; change doesn’t happen in a presidential debate, it happens in the everyday interactions of regular people who still believe in E Pluribus Unum: out of many, one.