Sometimes many of us living in the formal and professional worlds of education tend to lose sight of the fact that most learning takes place outside of classroom environments, and the most important lessons to be learned are not necessarily about the subjects found in school catalogs. It is important to revisit and reinforce this understanding regularly. Even as the circumstances of cultural frameworks may change and as our technology certainly will, people remain the same no matter where on Earth we go. Which brings me to this topic about how we learn about each other as fellow travelers in life’s journey.
In the summer of 1985, Sting released his first post-Police solo album entitled The Dream of the Blue Turtles. I remember that it was one of the first CDs I purchased, as CD players were relatively new back then. Being an idealistic young man at the time, one of my favorite cuts on the album was the song “Russians,” which was about the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, and the potential that it could lead to an actual, devastating nuclear was between the two superpower nations. You can find the lyrics of the song here, but the basic underlying theme was fairly simple: while the ideology of the two nations may be completely opposed, neither side could be completely correct, and the individual citizens of each nation have enough in common to transcend the posturing and rhetoric of their leaders. Consider this verse:
There is no monopoly on common sense
On either side of the political fence
We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology
The Cold War was at its peak. Both countries had enough nuclear warheads pointed at each other to completely destroy the world multiple times. The United States and the Soviet Union were enemies in almost every sense of the word. Yet Sting encouraged us to see that neither side could be the sole arbiter of what was good and right in the world. The point on which Sting’s entreaty rests is the song’s refrain telling us that there is hope because just like us, the Russians must love their children too.
What was the takeaway for us? Yes, it was the lesson that the people of a country that had posed the greatest existential threat to the United States loved their children as much as we do, and that commonality was enough to offer hope to the world that we could step back from the brink of nuclear war. What is the implication here? That a people is not simply a reflection of its leadership or ideology, and that our commonalities bind us together more strongly than political differences may work to pull us apart.
In the years since, we haven’t seemed to have learned that lesson. Take a look at our internal political conflict now, and we see a level of rhetoric, acrimony, and even violence that eclipses what took place during the Cold War. Neighbor against neighbor. Family members against each other. Hate and condemnation against the “other side” as though each individual is directly responsible for the impending “end of the world as we know it.” What happened to our commonalities? What happened to the fact that our same biology transcends our different ideologies? Give that some serious thought. We are more angry today at those we are convinced voted the “wrong” way than we were at the country that was poised to wipe us off of the face of the planet.
I wonder what changed. Because as far as I can tell, we all still love our children.