Monday, November 14, 2016
Our Common Wealth
Since the election last week, several things have been stuck in my craw. I have bones to pick, mostly internally, some communally. All need to be addressed now, though. Somewhere along the way we have become lost. We have lost our way. I do not seek people to be in lockstep with me, far from it. I believe in a multitude of voices and attitudes. In fact, one of the great needs in our society is to be confronted by the other. We have created a society where we can live in silos, isolated by our own opinions, biases and ignorance. We all need a Cheers, the bar in the sitcom, where everybody loved Norm, and everybody put up with Cliff. We all have a place, especially the different.
Early on in my married life, I learned an important life lesson. My wife and I were having dinner and we were talking about something. Whatever she said, I took a contrarian point of view for fun and to bolster the conversation. In my family of origin, that is what we did. We would debate and spar and refute, and it was fun. I was doing what I had always done. She looked at me like I was from Mars. She found it the opposite of fun, and was actually hurt. We have come a long way since then. I do not put these ideas out there to be contrarian or against anyone. My hope for this piece is actually to put some ideas out there that we can all look at and wrestle with and hopefully celebrate and resonate the overlapping of our isolated circles.
Enough preamble, I invite you to join me in perusing our Common Wealth, and maybe give us some approaches to difference and opinions, and hear with understanding when we cannot give agreement. Listening is free. Empathy has a cost, but still does not have to step to common ground. Sympathy is the only path ahead for all our sakes.
Our Common Understanding
One of the greatest cringe moments for me over the last 8 years and just as much, if not more, the last few days, is the chant “Not My President!” The hashtag #notmypresident is an ignoring of the situation we find ourselves in and a position of privilege that needs to be addressed.
The President is my President. And the President Elect will be, barring anything unforeseen.They may very well not be my candidate or choice, but there is only one president for good or ill. I am addressing here the personal pronoun. It is the statement of a petulant two-year-old to scream MINE about any and everything. What I would invite us to move toward is the plural possessive, OUR. I will out myself. I did not vote for Donald Trump, and voted for Hillary to stop him from becoming President Elect. However, despite my wishes and work, he won the vote of the electors (pending their December 19 vote). It appears to be the case. He is OUR President Elect. Don’t like it. Celebrate it. Either does not change the fact that he won in the system that we use. Express your outrage. Fine. When you chant, however, “Not MY President” we cannot go to anywhere with that. It closes all conversation and ability to go anywhere else. It seems to be a response, but it is the equivalent of plugging one’s ears and closing one’s eyes and humming. It just does nothing but close out anything other than the internal.
I would say, no matter one’s feelings, stop using MY. Trump is OUR President Elect. Protest that. Call for change. Call for a delineation on issues and actions. Demand to be heard and demand to be recognized. OUR President must respond. If not, then we are lost. Our common understanding can exclude no one, the ones who voted for Trump who put us here, or the majority who did not and are affronted. OUR understanding of ourselves needs to be communal, not sectarian. I do not wish for their demise. I pray they do not wish for mine. For those that do wish for my demise or those that oppose or disagree with them, let them out themselves and let us see them for what they are. Let us fight that, not the vast majority of centrists who can see and say the WE are all in this together, and WE need to fight for ALL OUR betterment. We will disagree on how to do that, but let us do it from a perspective of MUTUAL respect and COMMON understanding. Why?
Our Common Love
I would say and I would argue that those that are crying and those that are cheering are people who LOVE America. We have that in COMMON. How we express that and how we act on that will differ, but can’t we all agree that we are coming from a COMMON MOTIVATION? How we define what our Founders meant by “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” does differ. But can we no longer see that that is the outcome we are aiming for?
In many of the groups and organizations I have been a part of, when we come to major differences, it is almost always over underlying assumptions that have not been addressed. People assumed that everyone understood the same thing the same way. They did not see another perspective. Having another point of view is NOT EVIL, unless their point of view is to promote and encourage EVIL. It is merely holding another point of view. When I have led groups who have gotten themselves to this space, I try to find common ground. I try to move from an issue to a name and a face. People may say and think that they hate Issue X, but when I invite them to see that John and Jane here believe or hold the opinion of Issue X, I ask do we hate them? I have never had someone say yes. Ever. When we move it from the theoretical to the personal, it becomes very different. It is easy to counter a foreign concept, but when you have a story attached to a face and a name, we begin to hear each other. Our COMMON LOVE, this wonderful and beautiful and permanently flawed experiment called America is the longest continuous democracy in the world. We are fast running to an edge of a cliff where that will no longer be possible because we are limiting and ignoring the other that we hear. We cannot be ruled by the people when we do not listen to the voice of half of them, no matter our side. Can we not agree to see we all love this great land, and that we all have a right to believe and think and feel the way that we do?
I was in England when the election happened, and in my processing of my emotions with my Brit friends they asked why we do not outlaw extremist voices. Shocked and surprised, I heard myself passionately defending the right of Free Speech guaranteed in the First Amendment. It is written into my DNA. I speak publicly as part of my living, and I write as well. I say what I want to say, and I express what I want to express. I believe that this is a God-given right, and I will fight for that right for me and I will fight for that right for you. EVEN IF IT IS SPEECH THAT I CONDEMN! I love that about this country. It is an underlying gem that we seem to be ignoring. Protests, legal and safe, should be celebrated. When it moves into vandalism or violence, it is no longer speech but crimes. And that is a different issue.
I ask that we recognize our Common Understanding, WE ARE AMERICA. All of us. And I ask that we see that we all share a COMMON LOVE, that same America. WE ALL LOVE AMERICA and what she stands for. And because of that we can face and name the elephant in the room.
Our Common Fear
Somewhere along the way, we became afraid. My hunch is the morning of September 11, 2001. Our vague response to a vague enemy keeps us always on edge. I remember the night we killed bin Laden. I was surprised by the roar of approval by so many young adults, barely cognizant when 9/11 happened. And then it struck me. Their Voldemort had been killed. Their Boogey Man had been outed and destroyed. It was a haunting demon in their psyche, and now that they were free of him it was like watching the Munchkins in Oz after Dorothy’s house crushed the Wicked Witch of the East. I could not wrap my head around it, because it was not coming from their heads. It snuck out of the dark recesses of their hearts, their childhood fears at their worst was no more. The restrained older ones among us did not celebrate in the streets, knowing that the vague fear was more than a man, more than one name. And that haunting fear has not left us. It remains.
We have been played by both sides, tapping into that fear. Watching both candidates and how bin Laden, and ISIS, and immigrants, and Mexicans, and homosexuals, and health care, and… All of the major issues brought up were fear based. They kept us afraid to keep us in check and steal our power from us.
I would propose that we let go of the fear. A hero is not someone who is not afraid. A hero is someone who is afraid and acts anyway. And that is what we need to do. We need to admit our fears, and in the vulnerability, we need to reach out to our neighbors and our enemies and the stranger in our midst. We need to love our neighbors, as much as we love ourselves. And in that Common Love, we need to help each other get past our Common Fear. Together we are greater than this. We are the UNITED STATES, and yet, we let ourselves become the DIVIDED STATES. God help us. God forgive us. It says in God we trust on our currency, and it's about time we look to our neighbor whose face we can see. In the Holy Book I read, at the very beginning it talks about how each of us is made in the image of God. I believe that to be true. And if it is true, than for me to say I trust in God, but not God’s reflection, I am a liar. We need to find our Common Understanding that this is OUR Nation, and that WE is all we’ve got. We need to find our Common Love, of this country and each other. And we need to recognize and help each other through and past our Common Fear and anxiety that has driven our nation for far too long. I know we can. Will we?
Our Common Wealth
America is already great. And it can be greater yet. The Past Is Prologue, or so it is inscribed on our National Archives. I believe that all of us together can be and can remain this God-blessed America that we all hold dear.
Listen. Talk. Respect. Forgive. And yes, Love. That is the only way forward. We can be reconciled. We have to be. It will be long and hard work, but WE can do hard things.