The race for the White House in 2016 has started, and so has the chatter surrounding it from experts and so-called experts (myself included). It's hard to escape, whether it's Marco Rubio attending (or not attending) a gay marriage or Hillary Clinton eating at Chipotle. Every word and move the candidates make is analyzed, scrutinized and, in many cases, criticized.
We can't seem to escape how polarizing our political beliefs have become. During Republican administrations, liberal-leaning pundits crow on about abuses, scandals, oppression, and the dictatorial behavior of the incumbent president. Taking their comments at face value, the sky is, indeed, falling. During Democratic administrations, conservative-leaning commentators talk about abuses, scandals, the suppression of liberty, and the "imperial presidency." Again, the sky is falling.
"These people," both sides would say about their opposition, don't just need to be stopped. They need to be destroyed.
Oddly enough, I found a metaphor for our times (and this way of thinking) in a very unlikely place. As I have written before, being the dad of two girls, I watch a lot of Disney Princess movies. While the "Princess culture" these films allegedly promote has come under attack in recent years, my wife and I believe that they do demonstrate good values and character traits as well as teach valuable life lessons. Until recently, though, I didn't realize just how far-reaching those lessons were. Because these very same movies predicted, rather accurately, the current climate we find ourselves in.
Look at Beauty and the Beast. Sure, the Beast is scary-looking and kind of mean at the beginning of the film. It would be apropos to label him a "monster." However, as Belle gets to know him, she begins to see beyond the scary exterior to find a sensitive, wounded, caring soul. Gaston, who is hell-bent on winning Belle's hand in marriage, takes one look at the Beast and sees an enemy. He uses the fears of his fellow townspeople ("The Beast will make off with your children! He'll wreak havoc on our village if we let him wander free!") to form a posse to destroy this threat. There's no time to get to know him--if we wait too long, it'll be too late!
Another example: in The Little Mermaid, King Triton expresses his anger at Ariel for consorting with humans, leading to her falling in love with a human prince. Ariel pleads "If only you got to know him..." to which King Triton retorts "I don't have to know him! THEY'RE ALL THE SAME! Spineless, savage, harpooning fish-eaters, incapable of any feeling!" To hammer home his point, he destroys all of Ariel's human treasures--including the statue of her beloved Prince Eric.
They don't just need to be stopped. They need to be destroyed. It all feels eerily familiar.
Of course, being Disney movies, things work out in the end. Gaston and his mob do not succeed, and after Belle shows the Beast how to love, he is no longer a monster (made clear for everyone by an actual physical transformation). Prince Eric saves Ariel and King Triton from the evil sea witch Ursula, and Triton finds that humans are not "all the same," after all.
Real life is not the same, I admit, but maybe we can learn something from these movies. Perhaps we need to look past the labels we put on those different from us. Perhaps we give them a chance to show us why exactly they do what they do and think how they think. Perhaps then we'll find that our similarities outweigh our differences.