My mother was always well-equipped with a rich arsenal of edicts and pronouncements to keep my siblings and me in line. Her declarative and imperative statements covered physical altercations: “Keep your hands to yourself!” and lengthened disciplinary lectures: “And another thing!” She expected us be the bigger person and not to say anything at all if we couldn’t say something nice.
But it is another of her sayings from our years on River Road that pops into my mind with increasing frequency. “It’s six of one and half a dozen of the other!” she would rail. Mother used this admonishment to quell arguments over crayons, chore responsibility – and who got to ride to town in the front seat.
Of late, however, I have been applying this life’s truth to the political situation in our country. Thus, I am using Mother’s number of six to make a half dozen observations about the governance of our nation – seemingly reduced to a barrage of sound bites and tweets from both sides, accomplishing little to nothing.
Observation # 1: Our nation’s leaders are not listening to each other. For how many years have we been complaining about Washington gridlock? It makes scant difference which political party holds the legislative majority or occupies the Oval Office. So many movers-and-shakers have retreated to their partisan corners that very little is moving or shaking any more.
There is no better example of this lack of forward movement than the government shutdown that began shortly before Christmas. Since 1976 there have been 21 such actions, half of which occurred over a weekend.
This shutdown, one that has unfairly caused economic hardship for an innocent group of our fellow citizens, passed the point of being twice as long as other actions and offered lots of talk but precious little listening.
Observation # 2: Compromise has become a negative concept within the government. There was a time when we recognized divergent definitions of compromise. In one sense a compromise is “an agreement between sides with differing opinions reached by mutual concessions,” while another type of compromise refers to “the acceptance of standards lower than desirable.”
In the case of individual behavior, athletes or career-ladder climbers can decide for themselves to refuse concession to lower standards. But we cannot apply principles of individual behavior to groups that must settle differences. It is essential that opposing sides find common ground, which sadly and alarmingly remains virtually unpopulated these days.
Observation # 3: It is not all Washington’s fault. It is easy to blame our elected officials for what ails our country. However…
Observation # 4: We must remember WE are the government. The people we send to Washington are mirroring us. And we the people are more frequently retreating to our partisan corners. We the people are more frequently failing to listen to each other. We the people are more frequently demanding no compromise.
Observation # 5: Too many of us think it is our right to have exactly what we want exactly the way we want it exactly when we want it. We are all familiar with the Declaration of Independence and its statements about the equality of all people and our unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The document contains no mention of some people having more rights than others, no mention of each person having the life or liberty he/she deems perfect, no mention of having the right to pursue one’s own happiness to the exclusion of the happiness of others.
And the more perfect union referred to in our Constitution results from establishing justice for everyone, insuring domestic tranquility for everyone, providing for the common defense of everyone, promoting the general welfare for everyone, and securing the blessings of liberty for everyone. Republicans are not more important than Democrats, liberals are not more important than conservatives, one religion is not more important than all other religions, one way of life is not more important than all other ways of life. Almost 250,000,000 adults live in this country, adults with thousands of combinations of beliefs. What we must expect our government to do is to find the best ways to honor those beliefs, not to isolate a few for protection at the expense of all others.
Observation # 6: We are still the nation of our forefathers. Back then, people settled this country with a variety of purposes in mind. Today, there are still contrasting ideas about what our nation should be. That early population was diverse, coming from different backgrounds and operating from different belief systems. That continues to be true more than two hundred years later, except there are so many more of us.
Nowadays there are those who speak in hushed tones about what the creators of our nation set down for us to follow – as if James Madison simply transcribed the ideas of the other Founding Fathers at the Constitutional Convention into a document to be ratified. Those men in the 18th century struggled mightily to find common ground among the demands and beliefs from the inhabitants of the various colonies. We should be following their example.
Whether a person is one of my mother’s six or her half dozen, we must stop concentrating on our differences and find our tiny spots of agreement. We must find a complete dozen that reflects us all.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.