I choose to live each day in an upbeat, positive manner. I must admit, however, to a sense of pessimism niggling at the corners of my mind, threatening to partially drain my half-full glass. It seems that we Americans are allowing ourselves to be deeply enough divided to cause concerning cracks in the foundation of our country.
Maybe I am morphing into a crotchety old fogey with too much time on her hands. During my teaching years I lived and worked at a breakneck pace, perhaps failing to properly notice the ongoing debates pushing us away from each other.
To the contrary, however, I think we have become ever more engulfed in disagreement and dissent. We judge one another harshly about the basic choices of politics, religion, and lifestyle. We are developing a thick skin of distrust to protect ourselves against dishonesty in many aspects of daily life. We numb ourselves in response to the cruelty of school shootings and child abuse with sadly-calloused attitudes of acceptance and resignation.
Minor gaps in public opinion have widened into chasms. In a time when the population of the planet is more interconnected that ever in the history of mankind, we are somehow less connected than ever. We seem to be regressing in important areas of ethics and civilized behavior toward others. Increasingly, we are unwilling to listen to each other, let alone seek ways to cooperate. A hallmark of maturity is the ability to view issues from another’s perspective: too often we backslide into immaturity.
In addition, we spend inordinate amounts of time and effort in determining just exactly what it means to be an American, going to great lengths to point out the patriotic shortcomings of others. Too many of us seek to narrow the definition of real Americanism to fit a set of personal beliefs – when we all live together in a sprawling country that is home to millions of natural and naturalized citizens whose government is based on freedom of speech, thought, and religion. We would do well to heed history’s warning from mere decades ago when a fascist government defined citizenship narrowly, thereby excluding an entire group of people from liberty, their country of birth, and eventually their lives.
We cannot hold the people in Washington totally responsible for our current divisive woes: we sent them there, after all. And increasingly we have sent them with clear instructions not to budge one inch from our staunch viewpoints, never to compromise our beliefs, not to even consider an idea from the opposition. In essence, we expect our leaders to legislate our opinions into law – thus rendering the other guy’s opinion illegal.
I cannot, however, allow myself to wallow in the negativity of division. For my own hope and sanity, I must find ways to insert positivity wherever and whenever possible.
A while back, when I was writing my Congressmen on a regular basis, I might have offered that form of communication as a partial solution to what ails us. However, such correspondence presents limitations. I am certain my elected representatives never actually read my words, which is to be expected. But after a series of form letters or no response at all – from both sides of the aisle, by the way – I have come to understand that whatever my message, it is simply hash marked into the yea or nay column – nothing more.
And so I suggest that each of us, in our own way, consider resorting to good works on behalf of our neighbors near and far. There are food banks and pantries needing donations and organization. There are nursing home residents and shut-ins needing visitors. There are 4-H clubs, Scout troops, and youth groups needing leaders. There are children needing tutoring or just a good, old-fashioned story reading. There are down-on-their-luck folks needing house repairs or diapers for the baby. There are families facing catastrophic illness needing meals, rides to the hospital, a few hours of child care. There are the lonely needing a listening ear and a friendly touch.
Together we could bridge the gaps separating us. If out of love and concern for others we outnumbered destructive forces with constructive forces, we could tip the balance for the good. And perhaps in doing so, we could become accustomed to listening to one another, to respecting other viewpoints, to discovering tiny bits of common ground.
Of course, the very basis of this solution is the Golden Rule. All that is required of us is to look around, find someone in need, and treat that person the way we wish to be treated.
And was not that exact concept on full display in the Dayton area following the Memorial Day tornadoes? Against a backdrop of splintered homes and uprooted trees, the concerned showed up in full force to care for the ravaged. I have seen no better application of this time-tested principle.
The following “poem” has been showing up of late on posters and T-shirts, perhaps a new translation of the Golden Rule: Love your neighbor who doesn’t look like you / think like you / love like you / speak like you / pray like you / vote like you.
By practicing these actions on a regular basis, we could focus on our agreements rather than our disagreements. We could move back to a true UNITED States of America.
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.