Flags are symbols. Symbols take whatever meaning you give them. Don’t tell me what the flag means, I have four of them hanging in my living room, flown over missions in Kyrgyzstan, Iraq, and Afghanistan. I know what it represents to me and how I feel about it, and no conversation here or elsewhere, no action by anyone, can change that.
But I also know that as I sit here, stating as loudly as I can that I get to decide what the flag means to me, I have to acknowledge that it can mean all sorts of things. I’ve been to a quarter of the world performing for the military. That flag and I are buddies. It gives me chill bumps often, for reasons based solely on my own history and experience.
To the soldier who catches a glimpse of the giant flag on the ceiling as he’s being wheeled into the hospital on Bagram AB, I bet it has an entirely different, much more intense, meaning.
If you need another point of reference, ask the ten-year old girl in the Chinese warehouse where they make flags what it means to her.
So yeah, I bet that flag has a slightly different meaning to the twenty-two year old kid whose ability to catch a football got him out of the ‘hood. Maybe that flag symbolizes a different kind of freedom for some people right now, that’s all.
I don’t know, because that’s not my life.
I’ve had some long, complicated conversations with people on both sides. And I’ve talked, man. Really talked. Not to argue or convince, but just to listen. I’ve had to force myself to do it, because it is an unexplainable level of uncomfortable. But you really have to be willing to talk, and not just copy/paste lyrics from your favorite shock journalists on your favorite social argument site.
But for now, I don’t even recommend talking.
For now, just do this: Just listen.
Read, research, ask questions, but mainly, just stop. You see a thing that disagrees with you, and before you even really know why, a reflex tells you to react. But don’t.
I’m not asking you to change it.
I’m just asking you to simply not react.
I’m just asking you to reach neutral buoyancy.
I’m asking you to not interfere.
Look at it like an ambulance screaming down the road towards you. You’re not in it. No one you know or love is in it. Just pull your car over for a moment and chill, okay? Because they’re human.
And maybe, if we shut up for a little bit and listen, it might start to make sense. Like, if we tried to understand maybe we could all get to the bottom of this together, and then on to the other side of it, and the flag could become a positive symbol for everybody, for all these different reasons.
Wouldn’t that be cool?