Filmmakers Annabel Park and Eric Byler are making a film that attempts to answer the question about what divides us as Americans. Here is an excerpt:
Park wrote about what she learned from that last scene:
At the end of the video, when James catches himself being unfairly judgmental of people on welfare, when he realizes that he is not so different from the people he’d been judging, you can see the light bulb go on over his head. It took me months longer, but a light bulb went on for me as well when I revisited this experience watching the video: I’m not so different from James…
James’ personal need is in terrible conflict with his political beliefs, his sense of self, and a story about America, I’ll call it the Confederate South story, that he had being using to make sense of life. The basic story that I had been using, I’ll call it the New America story, is different from his, but it operates in the same way in my life.
The basic story gives us a constant framework for understanding most of what happens in the public sphere and where the public and private intersect: these are the good people; these are the bad people; these are our values; these are their values, etc…
Looking back, it’s amazing that James opened up to us about his dilemma and the details of his situation. If he hadn’t done that, I may not see him as a person with a unique personal story. This conversation challenged the three of us to go outside of our basic story of America to understand each other.
There are actually several layers to these stories. First of all, there is the historical record of dates and events. We create our story of America by giving priority and meaning to the historical record. That is not simply something that some people do – it’s the human experience. Finally, there is the interplay of our own personal stories and the story of America that we have created. It is at that intersection that we watch James experience a moment of cognitive dissonance when the two stories come into conflict. An opening is created for the possibility of expanding his story of America.
We can maintain the priorities and meaning we’ve given to the historical record by refusing to allow the individual stories of others to challenge our story of America. That is how we maintain the divide. The alternative is to recognize that our own story of America is something that can evolve as we listen to how it intersects with the individual stories of others.
I am reminded of what Robert Kennedy said during another moment of great division in our country.
But we can perhaps remember – even if only for a time – that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short movement of life, that they seek – as we do – nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.
Surely this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts brothers and countrymen once again.