Students and teachers across the country are settling into the school year, which leads us to one conclusion: summer is over. As that thought sinks in, I can't help but wonder what a strange summer it was.
August was smooth. The Olympics in Rio had little to no disruptions- minus Lochte and his antics. Likewise, June was another month that was relatively quiet.
It was the month of July that turned the nation upside down. First there were the shootings of two unarmed African Americans. Those incidents forced our nation to take a hard look in the mirror and reevaluate where we stand on race. Two weeks later the Republican National Convention kicked off, followed by the Democratic National Convention. Both were circus-esque with people protesting Trump in Cleveland, while boos rained down in Philadelphia in protest of Bernie not getting a fair shake in the race.
I was lucky enough to spend a good deal of July in New Zealand and Australia, and I was fascinated by how in tune they were to not only our political sphere but also the current situation of our race relations. People asked about Trump- actually, that's pretty much all they asked about when they heard my accent. They were amazed by his hate fueled rhetoric, and were even more taken aback that people in the States were voting for him. They wondered what people see in him- and I too ask myself that exact question.
Gun laws were also a big concern. In Australia, a man my age asked, "After what happened in Orlando and California (San Bernardino), how are people still allowed to own semi-automatics? I know about the second amendment, but at some point don't all of you just say 'enough is enough'? After our largest mass shooting in 1996 we banned semi-automatics and we haven't had a mass shooting since."
His words hit hard. He had a point, and when he brought up his nation's history, it made me think even more about the role of violence in American society. When breaking down America's reaction to mass shootings, The Washington Post said it best: "The American mass shooting experience, which tends to follow a predictable cycle of tragedy -> outrage -> finger-pointing -> inaction, stands in sharp contrast to what happened in Australia in 1996." I can write a lot about gun violence and how it impacts society, but that's not the purpose of this piece.
The true purpose is about having conversations with others on topics that matter. Throughout the summer, especially during those tough times in July, I had conversations with others where we talked openly and honestly. Some conversations were with complete strangers, but towards the tail end of the month, I made my way back home to New Jersey and the same things happened. Whether in large or small groups, there were conversations about important issues. Talks about race and how we treat one another came up. We talked politics, which at times got heated, but our respect for one another as a person prevailed over the anger and animosity we felt towards one another's political position.
Tough conversations can be the hardest to participate in. Because of that, TED published an article (in July!), which aptly described why people are failing to engage in meaningful conversations on topics of significance, while also bringing up the dangers of this:
The elephant in the room is obviously polarization, and this is true not just in the United States, but I think Brexit and the migrant crisis in Europe tell us that it’s happening all over the world. Oftentimes we’ll enter into a conversation, and somebody will say, "I’m voting for Trump in the fall." Conversation over. You immediately say, “Nothing this person says is something I want to listen to, they have nothing to teach me,” and you end the conversation. And if the conversation does continue, you’re not actually listening to them.
That’s what is often ending conversations now. We have stopped talking to people that we disagree with. We basically want to be able to curate and edit our conversations the same way that we curate and edit our social media. If we’re talking to somebody that we don’t want to hear from, we want to unfollow them like we do on Twitter.
The problem with that is that everybody knows something that you don’t. And so if you are stopping all of those conversations and only speaking with people who have similar experiences and opinions, you’re not going to grow, ever, and you won’t change your mind or your opinion.
They used to tell us, don’t talk about religion and politics. The problem today is that everything is religion and politics.
We have seventy-three days until one of the most important elections in American history. There are tough conversations that must be had. Politics aside, with school starting, at some point in the year parents and children will face tough conversations about a multitude of issues. That's part of being a teenager.
Tough conversations will help each of us grow. It won't always be easy, but it's certainly necessary.