On the first Sunday in October, the Dallas Cowboys played the Green Bay Packers. The Packers won in a rout, 34-24, but that wasn’t the story.
The real news: TV cameras caught talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, an LGBT icon, watching the game beside former President George W. Bush, a conservative Republican icon, in Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ luxury suite.
Americans quickly jumped in to opine and everyone’s favorite pastime – having a national argument – occupied the ensuing days.
On Tuesday, DeGeneres defended her choice of suitemate on her TV talk show. She called Bush a friend and argued for kindness.
“I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have,” Degeneres explained, citing people who wear fur as an example.
Her conclusion: “Just because I don’t agree with someone on everything doesn’t mean that I’m not going to be friends with them. When I say, ‘Be kind to one another,’ I don’t mean only the people that think the same way that you do. I mean, ‘Be kind to everyone, it doesn’t matter.’”
This won Ellen lots of applause from the “can’t we all just get along crowd.”
However, some of her fellow Hollywood elites weren’t buying it. Mark Ruffalo, he of Incredible Hulk fame, tweeted:
“Sorry, until George W. Bush is brought to justice for the crimes of the Iraq War, (including American-lead torture, Iraqi deaths & displacement, and the deep scars – emotional & otherwise – inflicted on our military that served his folly), we can’t even begin to talk about kindness.”
Me, I disagree with Ruffalo – just as I also disagree with DeGeneres.
The way the two of them frame the situation, it’s about kindness versus its opposite, nastiness. Ellen’s sunny take holds friendship and civility above all. Ruffalo clearly would have preferred a duel – but not with guns! – at the 50-yard line, or DeGeneres having made a citizen’s arrest of Bush for war crimes.
Not only are they both wrong, but their wrongness underscores why so many Americans are absolutely insufferable these days.
We have as a society lost our sense of timing – that there is a time and a place for everything, including important things like kindness, political debate and nasty confrontation.
Rather than the politically correct “be kind to all,” I wish DeGeneres would have said:
“Sure, I’m friends with W. We argue over gay marriage all the time – in private, over a beer. But then on Sundays, we kick back and watch a little football. Because that reminds us that we still have some things in common, like hating the new NFL rules about pass interference. You know, not everything in this country has to be about choosing sides.”
The endless Twitter wars, the gaseous bickering over every social issue, the sanctimonious Facebook diatribes about politics, the “you’re a moron” arguments at the water cooler seven days a week – those moments aren’t the solution to our current cultural divide, they are the problem made manifest.
When everything is conflict, humans follow their instinct for peace and tune out the fight.
I’m not arguing against arguing; I’m arguing that we argue, protest, fight and confront those with whom we disagree when the moment is right.
And then, at other times, we find common ground, moments that recall us to our shared values and shared loves.
I hear it all the time, how in 2019 “we have to choose sides.”
Maybe we do, but trust me on this: No one else wants to hear which side you’re on 24-7-365. Sometimes, the right answer is to just shut the hell up and watch some football.