Cascade Avenue bike lane
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The bike lanes on Cascade Avenue in Colorado Springs have been controversial.

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Central Boston. Cradle of American values. Filled with ancient, by our nation’s standards, buildings. One of our continent’s grandest destinations to stroll and ponder and wander way, way back.

On a winter day in early 2012, I was walking those streets, thinking of John, Abigail, John Quincy and Samuel Adams, when a poster of Barack Obama yanked me from uplifting yesterday to depressing today.

The poster depicted Obama with one of those mustaches made popular by, yes, Adolf Hitler. Two college students, sitting at a folding table behind the poster, were surprised when I expressed supreme irritation with the image.

“He’s a dangerous man,” one of the students told me.

No matter how unhinged your imagination, that image of Obama must be seen as comically yet dangerously over the top. And the same must be said for any attempt to compare Donald J. Trump with Hitler.

No one deserves comparison with Hitler. No one has, or ever will, match the unfiltered evil that flowed through his polluted soul. Deep down, we all realize these comparisons are perilous, but reckless comparisons are in vogue in The Land of the Free.

America’s Pastime? Attacking each other, mostly online. Those we disagree with are clueless followers, stupid, borderline evil. Those we agree with are bold leaders, brilliant, deeply virtuous. I have arrived at these conclusions largely by a decade-plus spent reading the comments section on gazette.com.

But there’s reason to hope. Really, there is.

I stood in a room packed with 500 Colorado Springs residents at The Gazette’s Feb. 25 public debate on bike lanes. Virtually no one, and maybe no one, traveled to the big room at Pikes Peak Center without strong opinion. The crowd buzzed with energy.

But …

The mood was, mostly, respectful. Intense, for sure. Rude, almost never. Those who support bike lanes listened to those who oppose bike lanes, and the other way around. Largely because opponents were face to face, the listening was performed with patience.

Those hours of fierce yet considerate debate offer a model. Yes, it’s tempting and maybe even kind of fun to turn opponents into cartoon characters, wacky simpletons who are easy to dismiss. But Elmer Fudd, Daffy Duck and coyotes forever chasing roadrunners do not reside in our real world.

When listening with sincere, nonaggressive ears to your opponent, it’s usually evident this adversary has engaged in legit thinking and can deliver serious points to ponder. Your opponent is not nearly so ridiculous when your opponent is right in front of you.

During the bike lanes debate, opponents sat and stood side by side, shoulder to shoulder. No brawl broke out. Nobody was carried out on a stretcher. We all grew, at least a bit, during the discussion.

I was cruising the comments section after a recent column on Springs resident Michael Martin, who has written a book about his crusade to transform American guns to American garden tools. He’s looking for volunteers who want to turn their bullet-firing mechanisms into carrot-planting tools.

“It is just so ignorant to paint all gun owners as criminals who want to harm others,” a reader wrote in the comments.

Here’s the problem:

Nobody in the comments section had performed such painting. And nobody who supports stronger gun control paints all gun owners as criminals who want to harm others.

I have a strong suspicion the someone who wrote those words never talks with someone who supports gun control. That conversation, if honest, offers vast potential for both sides.

Overstatement and generalization deliver fun. Attacking offers more thrills than listening. I get that. But these destructive practices offer no nourishment. Pummeling opponents online is a thriving American fad, a fact of 2019, but this fad steers us toward rising fear and general dunderheadedness. Trust me: John, Abigail, John Quincy and Samuel Adams would not be pleased.

Embrace the alternative. Sit down with an opponent and discuss an issue, the more weighty the better. Embark on the conversation with unwavering resolve to learn and grow while seeking a deeper understanding of the other side.

Please, let’s discard the mustaches.

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