We have a hard and fast rule in our family: Don’t embarrass each other, especially in front of other people. This has worked well for us through the years. Our teen-aged children can rest easy when we are together in public, or when they have their friends over to our home, knowing that we are putting our collective best feet forward.
That all came to a crashing end last Sunday morning when I looked in my closet for something red, white or blue to wear to church to celebrate the 4th of July. All I had was a blue work-out shirt, some old white shorts, and brand new red basketball shoes. I threw them on thinking that I would get a good laugh from my wife and kids and then go back and put on something reasonable. But when I saw myself in the mirror, it made me laugh so much that it did my spirit good. How could I not share that experience with the world?
Now, I’m the type of guy who never even wears jeans to church, even though our pastor and just about every other guy do. So this was a pretty big step for me. I strode out of the bedroom like the emperor wearing no clothes, and the look had its intended effect. My wife laughed and called the kids, who turned their heads away in shock and fear. “You look adorable!” she said, as our children pleaded with me to change. But I stood firm.
The thing is, our nation is divided more than it has been since at least the Vietnam era, and possibly the most since the Civil War. In the figure below, you can see survey results from the Pew Foundation that show American’s antipathy towards people who hold differing political views has more than doubled on both sides since they began the measurement in 1994. And 1994 was no Kumbaya moment. Bad feelings prevailed on both sides of the aisle after Newt Gingrich and a sea change of representatives had just been elected on the pledge of fulfilling a Contract with America to undo what President Clinton had started in his first two years. Worse yet, the data below is from 2014. How much worse off are we now?
What I have found in life is that when things get really tough for me, so tough that my chest hurts and every hour of a day feels like a grind, is that I have to seek out time with my family or good friends just to laugh. Things never seem as bad when you find ways to laugh.
So off to church we went, and our friends loved the look. It elicited heart-felt laughter and a fair share of jokes at my expense. When we stopped by Costco on the way home, my family chose to stay in the car, which was fair. Turns out though, my eye-popping outfit is pretty blasé stuff in Ann Arbor.
But the lessons from the day seem worth mentioning. One: marry well. It’s a joy to have a friend for life who thinks you’re adorable when no one else can see it. Two: Find more friends to laugh with. Your friendships, especially with people who don’t look like you, vote like you, or spend money like you, will be a salve to our nation’s soul, and to your own as well.