My son lives in New York City. He has a very small apartment that costs significantly more than my suburban home. He is surrounded by a seemingly infinite amount of people. He has never owned a car. He walks and bikes a lot. He has his favorite bodega and neighborhood bar. He has access to every style of food. He is excelling professionally by working among the best of the best in what is arguably the most competitive market in the world. He loves big city life and is taking full advantage of all that it has to offer. There is a rhythm to his life, like an orchestra of instruments that somehow, almost magically, creates this kind of symphonic experience.
I love to visit him and step into his world. I love to see the city through his eyes. It is busy, chaotic even, and beautiful. And after a few days, I am ready to return to my way of living. I miss the spaciousness. I miss the birds and squirrels. I miss my fire pit. I miss the quiet and solitude.
At his age, I think I could have adjusted and even thrived in his environment. By the age of 32, I’d lived in 11 states, 14 cities, and moved 20 times. At 52 and having lived in the same house for 20 years, I have come to love my life. We don’t have a huge house or yard, but we have more than enough of both.
Who is living the best life, my son or me? The answer is, we both are.
We live in a time where being right is so important that we are willing to lose relationships over it. Better to be right than kind. Better to be right than loving. Better to be right than inclusive. Better to be right than generous. Better to be right than humble.
All this rightness has made each of us experts. Our sources are accurate. Our allies supersede all others. Opinions have become truth and leaders have become prophets. In this reality, there is no room for disagreement. Too much is at stake.
Beliefs influence my convictions and actions, the way I vote, prioritize, spend my money and time. I imagine the same is true for you. When did that stop being enough and being right become essential? When did your life in the city become my business and my life in the suburbs become yours? I get the perceived notion that there is much at stake. For example, I am a proud supporter of LGBT rights. Legislation that seeks to further marginalize the Transgender community angers and frustrates me. I tell myself that being right saves lives. And yet my anger has not changed one person’s mind. And there seems to be a thin line between righteous anger and self-righteousness. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. Voting, supporting certain organizations, being an ally does help. I need to remind myself of what helps and what doesn’t help.
When I talk with someone who holds very different opinions yet neither of us is trying to convert the other, we have a very different kind of conversation. We listen and feel heard. We often learn from the other. I love these opportunities, though they are becoming increasingly rare. More often, conversations with diverse opinions are more like verbal fighting. There may be a winner but there will definitely be injuries.
But I find myself coming back to the life that my son lives versus the life that I live. Arguing about who is right not only wouldn’t accomplish anything, it would actually get in the way of each of us living the life we want to live. Not too long ago, someone suggested that I had too much education and therapy, implying that my beliefs had been tainted by progressive sources. Initially I was offended. Now I see it more as a city person telling me that my suburban life is wrong. Maybe for him that is true. But I am quite happy with my life.
If we insist on seeing the world and its issues in black and white – one side is good and the other side is evil – we will continue to splinter and drift further apart from each other. And I don’t think we can be whole within ourselves when we live divided from each other. My son and I certainly couldn’t have the relationship we have if I insisted he emulate my life or I emulate his. We find common ground. We respect and often appreciate our differences. But then again we began with a sense of love and trust, both of which seem to be in short supply these days.