There is a lot of talk these days about the tribalism and political polarization that has taken over our public discourse. Nothing seems possible with such hatred for the other side. America is suffering an identity crisis. We seem to have lost focus on the values we once held dear and we seem unable to reach common ground with one another.
This is a frustrating situation that gives fear mongers room to inflict confusion and chaos among us. In times of great confusion, like now, good people assert their clarity on what they stand for. Doing this can stem the tide. As Irish statesman Edmund Burke was quoted in the late 1700’s,
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.”
Where do we start?
1. Acknowledge there is something bigger than ourselves and our interests.
Our nation’s founders believed in this higher reality when they established our nation’s guiding principles. These democratic principles were revolutionary. No other country was founded on the principle that all persons had equal rights. Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, emphasized this in his writings,
“Our principles are founded on the immovable basis of equal right and reason.”
“An equal application of law to every condition of man is fundamental.”
“Of distinction by birth or badge, Americans have no more idea than they have of the mode of existence in the moon or planets. They have heard only that there were such and know that (distinction by birth or badge) must be wrong.”
In establishing equal rights for all, our founders understood the diversity of our people and recognized the need to create a nation out of the sum of the many. This is where we must return our thinking.
2. We must change the way we talk about and treat people who think differently
If we believe that human beings are born with inalienable rights, then our government must be responsible to and derive its powers from all of its people. Our forbearers memorialized this belief into The Declaration of Independence, first by summarizing those inalienable rights and then by demanding that a just government ensure those rights be protected when it exercises all of its powers.
It is not just up to government officials to ensure those rights, we must take part in that protection of our citizens. Therefore, it is right and just that we respect others, no matter how different they are from us. The peaceful world we create can never come from excluding and demonizing those who think differently. Our respect for others must line our road to unity. Our position can only be credible if we have cleared the hatred and anger from our hearts for those who think in another way.
3. Working for unity is patriotic.
Tribalism and political polarization are the exact opposite of what our nation was meant to be. This is why we must reject those who stoke our fears and foster division among us. Every one of us created the view of ourselves in the world out of our experiences. Although the details of our experiences may differ, we share common elements as human beings. All of us have failed and succeeded. We have loved, hated, been angry, sad and heartbroken. We have found courage or joy. These are the aspects of humanity that connect us all and remind us that we are better together than divided.
4. Some beliefs must be rejected.
It is important that we understand, respect and accept the boundless variety of people around us, but it is another to accept all of their beliefs. I am not one of those who supports that all beliefs were created equal. some beliefs are just plain wrong. For example, there is no justification for separating children from their parents.
There is great ideological diversity among us. While we must protect the right for anyone to hold and express what they believe, it is our duty to speak out against those who preach hatred, revenge, discrimination, greed, violence and war.
The challenge is doing this in a way that is constructive and unifying. This is why becoming an instrument of peace is important. This is not a do-nothing alternative where one becomes a doormat in the face of fearful and hateful voices. It also does not mean that you adopt a holier than thou attitude towards your adversaries. You become a channel for peace by living out your values of justice, peace, compassion, equity, freedom and the ethical treatment of all.
5. Live in the present but work towards a better future.
I was twenty-five years old when I recited the Pledge of Allegiance at my naturalization ceremony. That was forty-one years ago. The words meant a lot then, but they mean even more to me today.
“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
The love I have for my adopted country was the reason I chose a career in government. It has been the privilege of my life to spend over thirty-seven years helping to shape that more perfect union. I have experienced the incredible sense of satisfaction that come from knowing that your efforts are helping to create a greater good that goes beyond your existence. Creating a better world should become the passion for all of us.
The lines of our country’s principles have become blurred, we must help to clarify them. While we can disagree on salient points, like the size of government, immigration reform, or stopping terrorism, the fact remains that we must work to find our solutions within the framework outlined by our constitution if we are to remain the country envisioned by our founders. Our nation and the world depend on it.
We are part of the greater us that makes up this world. Imagine all the love and beauty that would be ours if we accepted and worked together with every person who is part of us.
May peace always reign in your heart.
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Also published on Medium.