Another Version Of You

This is the title of a brilliant new PBS documentary about television pioneer, Norman Lear.

It is also his philosophy for creating characters and for seeing “other” people. Whereas someone might look at his most famous creation, Archie Bunker, and see only a bigot, he instead sees a fellow American whose own life experiences have simply created a different version of himself.

In watching clips of All in the Family, it is hard to imagine these shows being able to air today. The topics are charged and controversial, the language offensive.

Yet these raw and real conversations are exactly the types of discussions that we should be having and seeing more today. A strong case could be made for re-airing old All in the Family episodes “as is” as a step in our national healing process post election.

In fact, the arguments between Archie and his son-in-law, Meathead, about race, gender, and economics could be pulled right out of today’s headlines. But what makes them different is that is they are unfiltered voices of two characters struggling to make sense of not just the changing times but the other person — a necessity because they are members of the same family. What makes it palatable for the viewer is that the laughter isn’t derived from making fun of either character but in recognizing our own frustrations in trying to connect with someone with whom we disagree.

Using this as a model, what if we saw everyone we disagree with us as a member of our family (in this case the American family) whose life experiences, while different, are just as legitimate as our own.

Perhaps we would spend less time making fun of each “other” and more time making sense of “our family.”

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