The best part of eastern Kentucky has always been its big-hearted, friendly people. They’re the first thing I talk about when someone asks me what I love most about living here in the mountains.
I’m a proud Appalachian-American because I can count myself among a population second to none in talent, kindness, hard work and integrity. You won’t find a more tightly knit group, and when the need is greatest, no one does more to help. We donate money, prepare food, lend our time and expertise and lift those in need in our prayers. This is who we are, and I hope it is who we always will be.
In recent years, however, we’ve been swept up in a national trend that is dividing us in ways not seen in generations. It’s becoming a crisis, I’m afraid, but it’s been gradual enough that we’re not responding as we normally would.
The Us and Them debates are hardening to the point that we seem to be forgetting that we’re all Americans first and that there’s no such thing as a hole on your side of our boat. I believe we all have the same needs and worries and agree on 80 percent of the issues. Unfortunately, we have let the 20 percent of issues we disagree with tear us apart.
As we look for ways to fix this, I can’t help but think of my two teenage children and the time they’ve spent playing sports. Their dad and I have tried to teach them three important lessons: Maximize your talent, leave everything on the field, and then shake hands with your opponent once the game is over.
We tell them that it’s all right to cry in defeat or celebrate a victory, but we also don’t hesitate to remind them that, when the next day arrives, it’s time to move on to the next game. Nothing is gained by re-fighting battles already won or lost, and no one is better or worse as a person just because they wear a different jersey.
The Bible calls for us to “carry each other’s burdens,” but in these trying days, where the pandemic and recession are especially heavy anchors, it may seem impossible to add more weight to our shoulders.
The good news is that we only have to look up to see an example of how to address this. The geese flying overhead teach us a powerful lesson, because their V formation has a purpose. They use it to reduce drag, and they take turns as leader to fight the headwinds. The result is that they can fly much farther than they could separately or even in a straight line.
We have a choice going forward: We can go fast alone, or we can go far together. The former is tempting, but the latter is where we need to be if we truly want to leave the world a better place than we found it.
I’m not asking for us to be less passionate about the candidates and causes we support. That’s not who we are, and I know that’s not going to change. What I hope, though, is that, after this election, we take more time seeking common ground rather than the islands promoted on our televisions and social media feeds.
Regardless of political party, it has always been “east Kentucky against the world,” not “eastern Kentuckians against each other.” No one wins when we fight among ourselves.
I’m urging folks to think twice before posting something hate-filled that you would never say to someone’s face, and please don’t destroy family ties and friendships over national issues that either barely affect us or that we cannot change.
We’ll be on the bleachers or church pews together after the election, so let’s pledge to dust ourselves off, shake hands, and live our lives like the brothers and sisters we are. May we never forget that, despite our different-colored jerseys during campaigns, we are still very much on the same team.
Angie Hatton of Whitesburg represents the 91st Legislative District in the Kentucky General Assembly.