Different means different. Different does not mean better. Different does not mean worse. Or at least it shouldn't.
As we enter the final days of the campaign season, candidates of all stripes will shout about how their opponent is "not like us" or "not one of us." They will say that the other guy "sees the world differently than we do" or that "he has a different view of the world." All of these phrases are intended to do the same thing. The intent is to send a message that "we" are right and "they" are wrong.
But there is a problem with tying that message to the word "different." My neighbor and I don't come from the same place. We have different backgrounds and life experiences. However, we still need to be good neighbors to each other. And I believe we are. Yes, we are different. But different simply means different; not better, not worse.
When we accept use of the word "different" to demonize during campaign season, we should expect that differences will continue to be demonized when campaign season ends. When being different becomes akin to being bad -- or something worse -- it becomes hard for people to work together for the common good.
Our differences are our strength, not our weakness. They are a reason to come together and learn from one another, not a reason to retreat to our neutral corners and brood. The history of America teaches us that the variety of our individual thoughts, strengths and experiences is the foundation upon which we have built a society that ensures the justice of liberty. We must not allow this defining principle of our country to be corrupted just so someone, anyone, can win an election.
Franklin Roosevelt was the definition of different. It is hard to believe that he was bad for America. The same holds true for Ronald Reagan and Martin Luther King Jr. In their respective times, all of these men were controversial. Each certainly caused our society to stretch in uncomfortable ways, but we did not allow ourselves to be torn apart by our differences. Our ability to tolerate different points of view when necessary and accept them when appropriate is central to the idea of American exceptionalism.
If America is to continue to be exceptional, Americans must remember that different means different; not better, not worse. We must reject the notion that differences should be used to divide, and embrace the idea that our differences in the past, and continuing in the future, will have given us greater perspective for building a better society. I know it is easier said than done, but we have to make the effort.
Karl Douglass, Columbus native and resident, is a frequent commenter on local, state and federal politics. Follow him on Twitter@KarlDouglass or facebook.com/karldouglass.