By: tom walsh
Sometimes it gets difficult to remain positive in our world of today. After all, there are many wars going on, we’re on the tail end of a recession that has decimated the financial well-being of millions of people (ours included), many people have lost their jobs and many more continue to do so, our education system is taking hit after hit by losing money and good teachers and raising class sizes, and our newscasts are filled with reports of crime and tragedy and death and destruction.
But of all these things, I think that what is most discouraging to me is the way that we treat each other, especially here in the states. One of the things that always has been a hallmark of America is the fact that when times have gotten tough, we’ve stuck together. We’ve come together as a united people and we’ve worked our ways through our difficulties, overcoming obstacles and trials together.
Not this time, though. It’s unfortunate, but I’ve never been witness to such incredibly uncivil treatment as that which I’ve seen over the last few years, especially in the political arena. I’ve never seen so many people filled with hatred and anger of others simply because of religion, politics, national origin, or race.
And what’s worse, I’ve never seen the leaders of this country involved in such petty bickering and such mean-spirited attacks on each other. Their modeling is encouraging many of the people who admire them to do the same thing, and the polarization of our politics has become dangerous, as people vent their anger and their own frustrations of their own lives on the right or the left, the conservatives or the liberals, the “republitards” or the “libtards.” It’s all about name-calling, insulting, and trying to harm those who don’t hold the same beliefs that we hold, and that’s simply sad.
A country must be run on cooperation if it’s to function well. Unfortunately, though, we have very few role models who model cooperation to our young today–now things seem to be all about competition, and it frightens me to think of how these young people will end up twenty years from now if they’re not exposed to healthy models of cooperation.
Former U.S. Congressman John Kasich relates this incident from his own experience:
“I can remember being in the Congress in 1994, sitting on the House floor as Pat Schroeder walked by. Pat was a liberal Democrat from Colorado whom I happened to like. . . I have regard for people who don’t think the way I think. . . . the Democrats were in the majority at that time, and right or wrong it was seen as somewhat unusual for politicians of different stripes to have a friendly conversation on the House floor, but that’s precisely what we did. Pat had just had a hearing on one of my bills and passed it out of her committee, so we had a few things to kick around, and after we’d parted a few freshman Republicans came up to me and wondered what that was all about.
“‘How could you talk to that woman?’ one of them asked.
“It was as if I’d been found guilty of treason–or, at least, been caught with my hand in some partisan cookie jar. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. ‘What’s wrong with you?’ I shot back. ‘Pat Schroeder is not the enemy. This isn’t war. She’s one of your colleagues.’
“‘But she’s a liberal Democrat,’ came the sheepish reply.
“These newly minted Republican congressmen couldn’t even grasp what I was trying to say to them, that’s how foreign it was to their way of thinking, and I didn’t fault them as much as I did the system they were about to enter. They were perhaps too green to know any better–but how to explain the veteran congressmen who felt the same way? And furthermore, how to explain that it’s gotten worse, in the dozen or so years since this exchange took place?”
To me, it’s also important to wonder how these people were elected by voters, if all they were going to do was go to Washington and try to push their own party’s agendas, rather than work together with others–no matter what their party–to serve the people of their country. Are we as voters so swayed by political leanings that we no longer consider which candidate is most likely to serve his or her constituents well?
Human beings have faced adversity before, and we always will continue to face it. My hope comes from this fact. The adversity that we face now is not the same kind of adversity that we’ve faced in the past (but which others in the world continue to face), such as famine, pestilence, and disease. Rather, the adversity that we face now is our inability to live and work together in a civil way. We do so every day in our normal lives, but even on the job and at school and in our social settings, people are much less likely to discuss issues that really matter because of the unfortunate partisanship that’s affecting us all.
But I believe that we will wake up from our current stupor–that level heads and rational voices will prevail, and that we will once again find common ground upon which we can once more work together to build together. We may not silence the voices that preach hatred and division, but we can reach a point at which those voices are seen as what they really are–pathetic little sounds that do nothing more than attempt to win recognition for the weak people who speak about and encourage such destructive things as anger and revenge and intolerance. We will reclaim our lives and follow that star that shines uniquely for us, instead of hitching our wagons to each star that seems to be doing what we think everyone should be doing.
Tolerance. Cooperation. Unity. Acceptance. Helpfulness. Encouragement. These are things that can help us to contribute positively to the world and help us shine as individuals who are living their lives fully. And they are things that can help us to work together to reach our goals of continuing to recreate a country that still is a very new experiment in the world, and that still holds much promise. There still is plenty of room for hope.