Character:Build It Here
Face the Fire
In 1860, America faced a contentious election. The country writhed in divisive behavior. Our national dialogue tore apart our common sense of decency. Abraham Lincoln had this to say about the whole mess, “If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”
In 1960, when John F. Kennedy became President of the United States, I came home from school to find my mother in the kitchen, listening to the radio. She turned around with the most disgusted look on her face and said, “I don’t know what this country is coming to, now that we’ve elected a Catholic for President.”
I had no response. One of my best friends was Catholic.
On Tuesday, November 8th, 2016, we will elect another President. My heart feels like it used to when I was a small child, daily hearing my family’s prejudicial speech, struggling to make sense of it, trying hard to find an excuse for their ignorance. And now, those same heinous words disrupt my days, only this time, not in my house, but splashed across the headlines, shouted from the streets, and most egregiously, spewed from the tongue of a man who has been nominated by the Republican Party to become President of my great country, this formidable democracy that has led the world toward peace and prosperity since 1776.
I will vote on Tuesday. No matter who wins this election, I know that strife will follow. Yet I will carry forward, happy to be living in America, in this great idea of democracy, where only good can come of it.
This past week I came across two online stories that bolstered my faith in our democracy.
On Being explores how faith and the secular world can intersect our humanity with positive outcomes. Krista Tippett hosts this show on NPR and you can also find it online as a podcast.
This week’s show is aptly titled, “How to Live Beyond This Election”. Here’s the introduction that might perk your interest: (I listened to the whole hour-long discussion. Of course, it's worth your time!)
This political season has surfaced our need to re-imagine and re-weave the very meaning of common life and common good. We take a long, nourishing view of the challenge and promise of this moment with former U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey and interfaith visionary Eboo Patel. This is the second of two public conversations convened by the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis on the eve of the 2016 presidential debate on that campus.
The Wall Street Journal ran a story on November 5th, titled, “How to Get Beyond Our Tribal Politics”, by Jonathan Haidt and Ravi Iyer
It starts off with a discussion of an apocalyptic movie as an example of how dire some feel about the outcome of this election, then it continues:
Nearly half the country will therefore wake up deeply disappointed on the morning of Nov. 9, and many members of the losing side will think that America is doomed. Those on the winning side will feel relieved, but many will be shocked and disgusted that nearly half of their fellow citizens voted for the moral equivalent of the devil. The disgust expressed by both sides in this election is particularly worrisome because disgust dehumanizes its targets. That is why it is usually fostered by the perpetrators of genocide—disgust makes it easier for ordinary citizens to kill their neighbors.
In short, the day after this election is likely to be darker and more foreboding than the day after just about any U.S. election since 1860. Is it possible for Americans to forgive, accept and carry on working and living together? We think that it is. After all, civility doesn’t require consensus or the suspension of criticism. It is simply the ability to disagree productively with others while respecting their sincerity and decency. That can be hard to do when emotions run so high.
The article goes on to discuss how our ancient tribal ways have carried over in our modern world. Then the writers arrive at a rational conclusion:
Democracy requires trust and cooperation as well as competition. A healthy democracy features flexible and shifting coalitions. We must find a way to see citizens on the other side as cousins who are sometimes opponents but who share most of our values and interests and are never our mortal enemies.
Can tribalism be transcended? The writers reach back to Cicero for a sage observation:
“Nature has so formed us that a certain tie unites us all, but…this tie becomes stronger from proximity.” —Cicero, “On Friendship”
[...] The key, as Cicero observed, is proximity, and a great deal of modern research backs him up. Students are more likely to become friends with the student whose dorm room is one door away than with the student whose room is four doors away. People who have at least one friend from the other political party are less likely to hate the supporters of that party. But tragically, Americans are losing their proximity to those on the other side and are spending more time in politically purified settings. Since the 1980s, Democrats have been packing into the cities while the rural areas and exurbs have been getting more Republican. Institutions that used to bring people together—such as churches—are now splitting apart over culture war issues such as gay marriage.
The rest of the article takes ancient wisdom and modern research to show us how we can reach beyond our divisions and come together with our differences in tact. Inviting a neighbor for dinner that had an election sign in their yard that you disagreed with, could be a start to forming a more peaceful community. The article contains advice on how to approach such an uncertain meeting - and - Krista Tippett’s radio show as noted above gives additional tips!
The Wall Street Journal concludes:
This has been a frightening year for many Americans. Questions about the durability, legitimacy and wisdom of our democracy have been raised, both here and abroad. But the true test of our democracy—and our love of country—will come on the day after the election. Starting next Wednesday, each of us must decide what kind of person we want to be and what kind of relationship we want to have with our politically estranged cousins.
Dr. Haidt is a social psychologist at New York University’s Stern School of Business, a fellow at the Martin Prosperity Institute and the author of “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.” Dr. Iyer is a social psychologist and data scientist at the website Ranker and the executive director of CivilPolitics.org.