We don’t seem to spend much time talking about what binds us together as citizens of the United States of America. In 2010, we’re facing daunting challenges in national security and economic stability, but every news cycle is filled with sound-bites our own citizens and the rest of the world can only interpret as deep and perhaps terminal division. So, friends…what is it that binds us together? And…is that binding strong enough in the early 21st century? This is one of those topics that many people dismiss as unnecessary and perhaps even hysterical…but, when our leaders and our citizens seem to be focused more on working against one another that with one another, the inertia of division is powerful…and it will not slow nor cease without a decisive force to counter it. Sadly, this is a phoenix- issue…one that seems to rise from the ashes to be resolved once again in each subsequent American generation…and now it’s our turn.
“Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.” Matthew 12:25
“….A house divided upon itself- and upon that foundation do our enemies build their hopes of subduing us.” Abigail Adams, 1812
“A nation divided against itself cannot stand.” Sam Houston, 1850
“‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free.” Abraham Lincoln, 1858
We need to decide in this decade what it is that binds us together as Americans. It’s not enough to fall back on the decisions of prior generations…their decisions are powerful as a gift of our heritage, but they have little power over the forces of division that challenge us today. These quotes give us a small glimpse of the natural societal tensions that visit every generation. More accurately, the balance between unity and individuality must be decided by each of us multiple times each day…in our homes, in our workplaces, in our neighborhoods, among friends, and with the people we meet only in passing. As Americans, we have the added responsibility to balance unity and personal freedom in order to sustain our form of government. But…this requires the attention and action of a significant percentage of Americans…or divisions will grow and our national unity will dissolve.
The most troubling part of our current political context for me is what I see as the growing resistance of everyday citizens to actually talk with others who might have any opposing views. The 24/7 exposure of politicians and pundits throughout the media has pretty much convinced reasonable people that discussing political issues is dangerous. Sure…we’ve always had ‘political theater,’ but in the past we’ve had more public conversations where policy differences were actually explored. The public learned how to talk about the critical issues of the day by listening to mostly respectful discussions of policy options. Today, I see very few policy presentations among the many partisan attacks, spin interviews and side-issue distractions. It then should be no surprise that citizens are increasingly hesitant to voice their opinions in any situations where they might be treated this way.
I believe we need more conversations about how we can work with each other, rather than against each other. Whatever we’ve been doing to encourage civic engagement doesn’t seem to be working. What other strategies might we identify and try? Who will provide positive role models in public leadership and discourse? How can we make it profitable for the news media to return to investigative reporting, so factual information is available in support of participatory decision-making? To hold together as a nation, we need more of those who are ‘working with’ than those who are ‘working against’…at present, I’m not so sure this is the case.