“No tree has branches so foolish as to fight amongst themselves.” -Native American Proverb
Right before Thanksgiving Day, I had to stop at the market to get a couple last minute items, and waiting in the check out lane, I saw an issue of a national magazine stating that the Royal Family is divided. Again. I thought that was odd. It seemed like last issue was the same story. I bet if we had the chance to ask Will, Kate, Harry and Meghan we could hear a different tale–one of a family tired of always being portrayed at odds with each other. It reminded me of the headlines I hear about our own country as we are constantly told we are divided. Are we really?
I am going to be bold and say no, we are not divided; we are diverse. Looking over our history, we have seldom agreed on how things should be done save a few moments when we were collectively attacked. We have had heated debate and discourse from the very beginning. The current challenge is the breakdown in that discourse. Some leaders would very much like to see this alleged divide get deeper. When people are looking for a better way, those who would like to control use fear to paralyze and create animosity. It sells newspapers and gets us anxious. When a nation is divided, it is much easier to overcome, but a united people, even if their ideas are diverse, are much harder to break. If we are constantly told we are at odds, we begin to lose hope in one another. That is the real tragedy.
Abraham Lincoln wisely stated, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” It was Lincoln’s patience and wisdom that held our country together during one of our most challenging times when the nation literally was divided between north and south over the rights of freedom for all people and the battle over states’ rights. Harriet Tubman was a guiding force during those times. She lead people to freedom from bondage and her words ring true today as they did when she crossed over into freedom from slavery, “When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven.”
We have the invitation to cross over the line to each other. To listen to the many voices and be willing to work to create a better world together. That was the dream of America–from many countries would come one stronger nation of self-governance. The people of this nation committed to ending the centralized control of one person (the king) and to the idea we could do this together. Our history is checkered with times when we have been heroic and at times cruel. The challenge is to find ways to grow beyond that, and the Civil Grace that will lead us there is Respect. The word Respect is from Latin respectus, from the verb respicere ‘to look back at, to regard.’ When we can look back and see the eyes of another and not see them as “other” but rather “brother or sister,” we realize that we need their ideas and our own. We cannot accomplish self-governing with one side anymore that we can row a boat with one oar in the water…we will just keep going around in circles.
I have a good friend who works with helping organize communities before disasters strike. She says it is amazing to see when people are dealing with a crisis, we forget who is on what side of the aisle and who voted for whichever candidate. We come together as neighbors and work together to resolve the issues and rebuild the community. This happens every single day in a thousand communities across our country. When we remember our common humanity, we let go of the labels and help each other get back up when we are down.
Respect reminds us that there is more to life than amassing wealth and title. It is about living a life that we can regard and the legacy we will leave behind for those who follow our footsteps. It is not about stoking the fires of political, religious, or cultural division to prove right is might, but rather to seek the call to find the common ground where we can begin anew each day with space for everyone at the table. The headlines beat our minds that hate crimes and division are surrounding us making us too afraid to speak out or to reach out to our neighbor. Social media allows us to repost the outrageous instead of actually sitting face to face to dialogue with one another. Our leaders point the finger at the injustice of one side while three more fingers are pointing back at them.
Respect invites us to heal our own woundedness and see that our role is to be the voice of Liberty for each other. There are many ways to see the world. Why do I know this to be true? When my kids were younger, I would point out the diversity in nature and remind them that there is not one tree or flower alike. Each one is unique, beautiful and diverse. That is what makes our world wonder-full. Just as we may hold our truths to be self-evident, we must Respect that another may hold other beliefs that are just as real to them. To demand that they conform to our answer is to make our world more violent and unjust. Again, I will say, we are not divided. We are diverse. Having Respect to make sure all are at the table and that each voice is heard is a way to find the common ground that still is there for all of us.
Photo credit: Vince Moro–olive branches from the Languedoc-Roussillon Region in France