“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” -Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address
We are a nation whose origin was in revolution, and maybe that is why we continue to wrestle with each other on the journey. What we are engaged in is something fragile and ever-evolving. We have always had heated debates over the various issues and injustices confronting us. We usually find our way through them and resolve to move forward, often imperfectly together. However, of late, it seems like there are too many who are in it to win it for themselves. Being someone who deeply respects our democratic process, I cringe when I see representatives taking their oath lightly or worse, becoming obstructionists to score a few points on social media or toward political ambition. Rather than speak truth to power, some believe in taking petty potshots or carelessly endangering their constituents to make a point. It can be easy to lose interest or hope in our system when it gets bogged down with such partisan rancor. Even more concerning are those who think we should abandon the process altogether and resign the people’s sovereign power to just one person. Those of us who believe in our democracy cannot sit on the sidelines, hoping this will work itself out.
Underneath it all, I believe we, the people, have a crucial role that we cannot ignore. With so much on the line, what can any of us do to preserve, protect and defend our democracy? As I have written in this blog and in my book, one of the most important things we can do is recognize our shared humanity and take action to foster better relationships in our communities. We need to realize what is lost by silencing each other, invalidating truth, and grasping at sides. It is a challenge to engage in compassionate dialogue about our experiences with one another, let alone when there is tension. We each have unique vantage points, and politics has been on hyper-drive to create divisions. Yet, we each can take steps to heal our communities, and that collective work can truly change our country for the better.
For example, each time I speak to a particular family member who has different political views, it at first can seem so unreal–how is it that we grew up in the same household? Yet, why start on politics at all? As I seek to learn more about them and their interests, I open the door for a deeper conversation. When controversial topics arise, gently I have asked, “where did you hear that?” or “how did you come to know that?” Sometimes we can unwind the web of misinformation that arises many times from fear. We don’t have to have malice or put them down or even get a change of mind, but we can begin to understand where this energy is coming from and move to a more hospitable place. We can talk about hard things with love. Sometimes the most demanding work is with those who are closest to us because they know our buttons.
How can we move the needle from being accusatory to inquiring to learn more? For starters, this work is more productive when we don’t see each other as enemies. While there are definitely some bad actors out there looking for reasons for war, they cannot stand up to the power of communities who are united to work things out. The central ideas that held us together from the start, what I call the civil graces, are guides that can bring us back to this generation’s core work. We can also do our inner work to learn what gets us worked up and understand what is behind that–Am I worried about how I will look? Maybe I will be rejected or yelled at for what I believe. What if they stop loving me and things get worse? Perhaps I don’t know everything. What if this will never get better? How can I love someone who believes in these things? By seeing our vulnerabilities in the situation, we can reconnect to our human link with each other.
What does it mean to be a citizen of this nation? What is our obligation to one another? How do we hold the legacy of those who gave their lives defending this country and the principles we profess? I just finished reading Dan Rather’s book, What Unites Us, and I highly recommend it. His perspective as a journalist for over six decades in times of intense American debate is one of deep wisdom. The book’s last line is our central challenge. “If we stand firm in our better values, do not shy away from challenging injustice, and can talk to one another rather than past one another, I am confident we can find the common ground that unites us.” These lines remind me of what Lincoln was summoning of us in his Second Inaugural Address.
We have to decide what we stand for and be willing to tackle those issues that have plagued our nation, like discrimination, xenophobia, and income inequality, but we can do it with love. We need to make space for everyone at the table by supporting fair voting rights and ending the practice of gerrymandering. If, as a candidate, your message doesn’t resound with most people, maybe it’s time to understand why because fixing the election is not the answer. We need a representative government and not one in which a minority holds the nation back from doing what is essential for the betterment of all Americans. We battle the same battle year after year if you stand back and look at it–whether or not we recognize that every citizen has a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The inequality in our nation has brought us once again to a boiling point, and we have to ask, “What are we afraid of that would make us hold anyone back from manifesting their full positive potential?”
We landed on the moon and are continuing to explore outer space in our recent voyage to Mars. To move beyond this time of uncertainty in our nation, we also have to explore the inner space–in ourselves and in between people. By opening our hearts to the adventure of learning from each other, I believe we will discover the steps that will lead us closer to that more perfect union.
Photo credit: Outside our barn at Chadds Peak Farm by Edwin Williams Photography, LLC