We’d like to show the side of the world you don’t normally see on television.
I’ve been struggling for the last several weeks to respond to what we see going on in this country since the recent election. Everywhere you turn, you see people at odds with each other expressing anger. Rep. Bart Stupak was reported to have said: “Every boundary of decency has been crossed!” People are divided and fearful. Community panels discuss the lack of civility in our democratic process. People are striking out in anger, marking turf and declaring “this group” or “that group” the ENEMY. A friend of mine has written that he is consumed with anger when he reads about the growing divisiveness in the country because he feels “set up” by the media. Others are fighting among themselves about whether or not President Obama is “political enough” when coming to reaching compromises that don’t meet the “political savvy” of some of his own party. They seem to forget that when he was a candidate, Obama stressed the need to work together, to change the way business is done in Washington. Where is our empathy for him as he faces the extraordinary challenges of being President at this time in history?
We in America pride ourselves on being independent, being successful, and winning. We have lifted up the virtues of self-made individualism OVER one of the foundation stones of this Country that welcomes others from all walks of life, all religions, and from other countries who desire to have freedom to live and be free. “They can come but don’t take up any space and detract from the freedom and prosperity that is MINE.” This flies in the face of the promise of the inalienable rights “of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for all citizens.
We are supposed to be a union; we are supposed to welcome “the hungry, the tired, the poor, the individuals yearning to be free” and welcome them into our communities.
We have turned our country into an US vs. THEM place to live. We value winning and we denounce the losers. The attitude is Winner Take All and rarely is the price paid for winning counted. Can we survive this intensified state of the national emotional climate? Will our selfishness backfire on us? Will our greed collapse what was a thriving middle class? Will we begin to pull into our communities / political parties / “labels” and see all others as enemies? How hardened has become our hearts when we say: “Let them pull themselves up by their bootstraps. It is their fault they are poor – it is their fault that they aren’t educated – it is their fault that they are weak and unmotivated. NOT MY PROBLEM!”
Some forty years ago, a young psychologist examined the two operative styles typically expected of men and women. She knew that both sexes needed to be able to live in more healthy ways, other than one being the aggressor and the other being a passive recipient of that domination. A new word was coined – assertiveness - that called for a new stronger style where both parties could be equal. It involved both parties believing in their right to be (to speak, to behave) and a responsibility to be clear when communicating. Equally important was the fact that both parties had to respect the other’s right to speak and to be. This, when practiced, would result in both persons WINNING. The aggressor plays the win-lose game, the passive person plays the lose-win game, and the respectful/responsible – assertive - person works to create win-win situations.
If we think only of ourselves and have no respect for the rights and plight of others, we may win, yet we rarely have the true trust of others. We may “play along” but neither trust nor be loyal to the other because they only work for themselves. Playing the win-lose game separates us from others in every way possible. The person who is aggressive and thinks only of himself often ends up dissatisfied with his/her possessions and titles of power. For those who have hardened their hearts against others, there can be a bleakness of spirit in their lives and often simply a greater hunger for more, more, more. Material things can never be ultimately satisfying without love.
What will it take for us to pull together again? Abraham Lincoln, in his first Inaugural Address in 1861 talked of the agonizingly difficult situation the nation was in with so many divided among themselves. Pulling the union apart through secession was not an option, he said. In closing, he said he knew how hard it was to have so many at odds with each other and hoped that in the long run, the “angels of our better natures” would help the country pull together.
We seem to be creating an untenable situation in America, where people are divided against each other. Truth is being distorted and it is hard to find out “real facts.” Manipulating public opinion through advertising and campaign attack ads feed our fears. I strongly suspect that this roiling anger comes from the fear and worry that is inside all of us when it seems like “our way of life” is falling apart.
We need to bring more “heart” into our conversations – more empathy, more compassion, more patience, less judgment. “Being our brothers’ keeper” is one of the simple maxims given to the world by Jesus, who became the Christ. He assured us that God was indeed the Father of us all. As we find LOVE swelling up in us during this sacred holiday season, let’s expand our awareness of blessing and sharing and think of all of our fellow citizens. Not judging, embracing them in our minds eye, and recognizing that “We are all in this together…”
Kansas City, Missouri
TAKING THE HIGH ROAD