There’s more common ground in the United States than “the outliers in the media” would want you to believe, says Taya Kyle, the widow of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle.
Television talking heads, she says, emphasize the “most dramatically good and bad in the world. That’s not a bad thing. But what we miss is the center of that bell curve where there are awesome, good people coming so close to agreeing.”
While touring the country to talk about her husband (the focus of the Oscar-winning film “American Sniper”), her book (“American Wife”) or military families, she finds a number of people who are tired of the chatter, looking to find middle ground.
“They’re exhausted by all the conflicts,” the 42-year-old mother of two says. “If you take the polarizing conflicts out of the conversation, you’d realize most people are not so far apart. We might disagree on some things, but we’re not hateful with our neighbor. If we had a conversation, we might be able to list off 100 things we agree on. Somehow, it’s getting scarier and scarier to start those conversations.”
Social media, Kyle says, often fuels the fire.
“I shy away from that ‘keyboard warrior’ story, that hatefulness that some people thrive on. I think it’s better to have a brave conversation. I’m more enlightened when I understand where somebody’s fears come from.”
Gun control, for example, is one of those hot-button issues.
“If you talk to people on both sides of it, you can see they’re not too far apart. Neither wants people killed. Neither wants dangerous things in the hands of felons. If you go down the road a bit, you realize, we’re pretty darn close.”
Abortion and racism also can divide people. “We all have struggles we handle well. We all have regrets,” Kyle says. “Legislating things takes away the humanity of it. Sometimes, we try to legislate too much.”
When a police officer friend had a conversation with a man about police and racial profiling, the friend offered to send him on a ride-along. He agreed and before they got out of the car to talk with those breaking laws, he asked the man to guess the race and gender of the person stopped. “There was only one out of 12 that he guessed correctly. He only got the one right because the person had an arm out of the window. That was a brave conversation. Instead of stomping his feet and screaming injustice, he was able to see what the situation is really like. Too often people make up their minds without having knowledge.”
While Kyle has appeared on several television shows to talk about her life, her husband and the military, she doubts politics is a next step.
“I feel there are things I’ll never do,” she says. “But, then, I said I’d never do sales and I did that. I never thought I’d be a public speaker or write books and I’ve done that.”
Since “American Sniper,” the Oregon native has been a high-profile representative of military veterans’ families. Her husband, Chris, was one of the most effective snipers in U. S. military history, serving four tours in the Iraq war. After publishing his autobiography and sharing his story around the country, he was killed at a shooting range by a former Marine with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Clint Eastwood turned the book into a film, casting Bradley Cooper as Chris, Sienna Miller as Taya. Both Cooper and the film were nominated for Oscars.
“He did such a good job of playing him,” Kyle says. “Sienna nailed it. I feel what she feels.”
Although Kyle only saw the film twice – once at the premiere, once after they had finished it – she’s glad Eastwood got it right. Too many subjects of screen biographies are “painfully misunderstood,” she says. “I’m glad I don’t have that feeling.
“The only thing the film didn’t do was show how very funny Chris was. He was just such a happy person to have around. Most people who knew him knew he had a twinkle in his eye and a happiness about him.”
Now, Kyle’s book, “American Wife,” is being considered for a television miniseries. That’s another journey she never thought she’d take. But it’s also a springboard to something that really interests her – other people’s stories. While touring the country, Kyle has gotten to hear so many stories she’s convinced they need to be told on a bigger scale. They could be the subject of her next book.
“Every single person struggles,” she says. “But it’s not about the struggle. It’s about the awesome things they find through their struggle. There’s a strong, core spirit that is often overlooked. We are built on strength.”