Love Thy Neighbor

*Every year around July 5th (my “Papa’s” birthday) I write him a letter. He passed away in 2005, but he is never far from my mind):

Dear Papa,

We live in interesting times these days. An opinion article in the WSJ recently pointed to one of the differences between our generations and yours: “In 1960, only 5% of Americans had a negative reaction to the idea of marrying somebody from a different political party; now it’s 38%.” 

This statistic encapsulates our current state as a society. Politics is becoming the primary characteristic of our lives, leading to division.

I usually write blog posts about leadership, and I firmly believe that leadership can be taught. This belief stems from a growth mindset rooted in critical thinking. Unfortunately, I often observe that the most fixed-minded among us are those with the strongest political beliefs: Republicans are evil, Democrats are evil, and both are evil. It is no longer “I disagree.” It is, “Those people are evil.” 

Apparently, it is even “you better not marry one of those people.”  

This makes me sad and concerned about where it will lead our country. 

Having said this, I do not long for a return to the 1950s. While some reading this post might long for the good old days, there has been progress that we should be proud of. Our team at Hoffer Plastics is more diverse than ever, which is a blessing. I am co-CEO with my two sisters, which would have been unheard of in the 1950s.  

But I also have to be honest: not everything we call progress is progress. Our culture is both the most individualistic and, by most studies, the most unhappy, perhaps ever. So, we are not only becoming more politically divided, but we are also becoming more sad in the process. 

I am sharing this because you and your generation prioritized three things that are instructive to me in this cultural moment that we are living in: 

Sacrificial Service

We call your generation the greatest generation because of sacrificial service. Later this year, I will once again stand at Omaha Beach and walk every last gravestone at the American cemetery in Normandy. This is the ultimate example of sacrificial service. These soldiers died together regardless of political identity. 

I also know that you embodied this at a personal level. After V-J day, you came home and worked diligently for your family. You set aside your ambition in music to work at your father-in-law’s pharmacy. This was a personal sacrifice. Your sacrificial service helped your family, which eventually led to me. For this, I am thankful. 


On one hand, our generation tends to prioritize family over everything else. We easily attend more events than your generation did. But at the same time, I fear that our view of family is smaller in scale than it was for your generation. What I mean is that your generation knew your neighbors well, whereas our generation waves as we drive by our neighbors heading to the next Little League game. We are too busy and scheduled to really know them. 

Your generation also tended to live near grandparents and prioritized family gatherings. Our generation tends to use technology like FaceTime and text messaging to stay in touch. On the one hand, I am thankful for how these technologies keep us connected, but I am also sad at how hard it is to make time for extended family. We tend to live lives that are too scheduled for family reunions. So, we are more connected and yet less known. 

This often leads to surface-level relationships. Our distant relatives’ political rants on social media drive us crazy, not to mention the sign of the opposing party that our neighbor puts up. We roll our eyes in disgust as we drive by, but we do not know much about them outside of this sign in their front yard or the rant on social media. So, it is easier to indulge in our anger and judgment because we have failed to prioritize our community and getting to know them.

Getting to know them would open us up to who they are. We might even discover that while they have different political beliefs than we do, they have an interesting perspective. Community regularly leads to growth: It is hard to hate your neighbors when you know them. Conversely, it is easier to be graceful when you know them.  


Finally, your generation prioritized unity over division. Decades after the fact, I can still remember dinners with some of your friends, many of whom were veterans of World War II. For the life of me, I cannot remember any of their politics. I cannot remember who was for/against Vietnam, who liked Reagan and who did not, nor can I remember political discussion being all that important.  

What I do remember is a lot of laughter, good food, and better memories. In fact, I still get goosebumps when I visit my friend John and go to Evansville Country Club. I can still hear the laughter and feel the memories come back to life. 

My fear is that our generation’s lasting memory won’t be that of unity but of tribe. We are busy bodies with little time for depth. Our surface-level interactions make us easily offended. No wonder some messages are deemed “unsafe.” 

An Invitation 

But what if we got to know each other? What if we spent time getting to know what makes our neighbor tick? Or, what would happen if we got to know why one of the parents at the Little League game wears a political T-shirt of a candidate we disagree with? 

My guess is that we would learn something in the process and become a little less divided.

As I close, let me assure you, and anyone looking in, that I am not a doomsayer. I believe all things can be restored. In fact, I believe that one day Jesus will restore all things! On that day none of these differences will matter whatsoever.

I am also of this generation, and I have to confess that I can fall into my own tribalism when I am at my worst. Simply put, part of my sadness is a recognition that I sometimes bite the apple and believe this “election is the most important election of our country.”

But the news will say the same thing in two years, let alone another four. Their business model relies on us biting this apple. 

What I know is that we would be best off putting others above ourselves, getting to know our community, and prioritizing unity over division.

Like your generation, I still believe our best days are yet to come. But these better days are certainly not guaranteed, nor are they promised. They will only come if we wake up and become people worth following. 

The kind that loves their neighbor like themselves. 

I always miss you, but I miss you a little more during times like these.

To that end, I promise to do my best to love like Jesus loves, and to treat people like I want to be treated.