This time of year – when spring has sprung, when barbecues are fired up, when baseball season settles in – there is just something special in the air.
Wait for it.
It’s pollen, everybody. Pollen is what’s in the air. All the air. It’s just pollen.
As we sneeze our way through May, we are reminded that allergies are really, really weird. Each of us has unique, negative reactions to various foreign substances. It is often nearly impossible to understand precisely what we are allergic to and the things that cause us the most harm occur naturally.
Such as pollen. Stupid, stupid pollen.
Stick with us for a second. There is a big transition coming that really pays off on all this allergy talk. We just need to blow our nose first.
Okay, so a person’s allergies are involuntary, inexplicable and seemingly insurmountable. This leads one to wonder: Is it possible that we are actually allergic to political discussion?
Boom! Told you that transition was really going to pay off. Ah-ah-ah-CHOO!
Seriously, the analogy works. There is a point in any argument where it escapes the conscious mind. The argument itself becomes innate, instinctual, a fight-or-flight response. We have reached that point.
We are no longer having rational political discussions; we are having subconscious reactions out loud. We are not debating. We are not persuading. We are not even arguing. We are standing on either side of a political issue and sneezing at each other.
Everyone has a different trigger. Two people can be having a perfectly reasonable discussion about healthcare, but the second immigration policy comes up it is akin to holding pepper under their nose. It could be racial issues, or education, or tax policy, or income inequality that serves as the trigger. The number of issues is as lengthy as the number of allergens.
The severity of the disconnect is similarly varied. Some of the issues should carry warning signs, like peanut-free zones in elementary schools. Do not talk about religion here. Do not talk about gun control there. How dare you raise the issue of social security? We have built bubbles around some of the most complex, pressing issues of our day. We hope that, if we just stay inside, the sneezing will stop.
But it won’t. The issues are airborne, they seep in.
Doctors will tell you that the most important step in treating your allergies is to be mindful of them. That’s probably true of political debates as well. We have to try and return the unconscious to the conscious. There is nothing wrong with having certain issues that set you off, but it is wrong to become slaves to those issues. We must be intentional in our debates lest every debate be lost, every argument becoming more pollen drifting in the air. We can’t, and we shouldn’t try, to hold it in.
This might make you feel silly at first. Have you ever tried to hold in a sneeze? Our mother told us that doing so might blow our ears off.
Obviously, these issues are more important than allergies. The ramifications are more pressing than a runny nose or a rash. These are the things that define us, define our culture, define our society. History will write about how we handle these discussions.
Grab a handkerchief, take a deep breath and let’s start solving some problems.