Life can be thought of as a series of forks in the road: opportunities to make decisions about which way we will travel, how we will respond, etc. Yet how often do feel stuck, unable to decide, allow inertia to take over? I think that we may be at such a fork as Americans now… and the question is how we get unstuck, how we decide which path to follow, and why.
My interest in all this was reawakened as I watch the controversy stirred up by Donald Trump’s response to Khizr Kahn’s words, and Mrs. Kahn’s presence, on the stage at the Democratic National Convention. People — again — are arguing whether this will be Trump’s self-immolation. Will his having suggested that he has sacrificed as the Khan’s have sacrificed, his seemingly total inability to appreciate not only the parents’ loss of a child, but also the fact that his death was in service to that son’s country — our country, Trump’s country — change how significant numbers of Trump’s supporters feel about him?
As one who has cautioned time and again about making such assumptions, and having been proved right time and again, I should probably imagine that this will be no different. But this time may be genuinely different.
I think the case of Captain Kumayun Khan may bring Trump supporters to a tipping point, because unlike so many other such moments, those supporters are able to metabolize their candidate’s words in ways they are less toxic for them than they are for non-supporters. The same can be said for supporters of Hillary, who say things that drive Trump’ers out of their minds while those who support really don’t get what the big deal is. We should not be surprised by any of that.
More often than not, we decide whom to support and understand their words through that choice, not the other way around. In fact that is how it is most of the time, in most relationship – be they political or personal. Until, of course, we reach one of those tipping point moments in our lives. And while they can only be defined in retrospect, they seem to have certain features which suggest when we might be approaching one.
We typically “tip” not because of some new set of facts or some breaking news story disturbs our thinking. Those facts and stories are most often digested in ways that allow us to keep right on going – failing to notice, let alone make a choice about, the fork in the road before which we stand. No, we typically tip when maintaining what we believe demands that we change paths, or when we locate already cherished values down new roads.
In fact, if you listen closely to people’s stories of conversion – religious or political, their decisions to marry or divorce, any choice to re-orient their lives in some profound way – they are often told as stories of reconnecting to the person the teller believed they were always meant to be.
If you want a bit of practical advice, it comes down to appreciating that most arguments are won less by how well you make your own points than by how well you understand the other person’s points and their motivation for making them. That is why I think this may be a tipping point for significant numbers of Trump supporters.
Patriotism ranks very high as an animating value among Trump’s backers. That does not mean others are not patriotic, or even one drop less patriotic, by the way. It simply means that the language and images of more traditional nationalist patriotism are more claimed by one side than the other.
When a young captain’s final words and deeds are to warn off all those around him and under his command, and then place himself even more directly into harm’s way in order to better protect those same people, as Kumayun Kahn, we are talking about the essence of patriotic heroism – the kind which animates the very best and most sincere of Trump’s supporters. They have come to a fork in the road, not simply as I see it, but as they see it. Who knows what they will decide, but those are the kinds of forks which any of us are most likely to appreciate and consider whether this is a moment to tip more towards the people we most want to be.
Brad Hirschfield is the co-founder and co-executive editor of The Wisdom Daily. A rabbi, Brad has been featured on ABC’s Nightline UpClose, PBS’s Frontline, Fox News and National Public Radio. He wrote a long-standing column, “For God’s Sake,” for the Washington Post, and has also written for The Huffington Post and Beliefnet.com. He authored the book, You Don?t Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism. Brad also serves as President of Clal, The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, a leadership training institute, think tank and resource center in New York City.