And what of our differences? The diversity of views and perspectives that divide Americans in the early years of the 21st century are unquestionably the deepest that have existed since the Civil War.
Our differences are based on many things today: ethical and religious values, economic disparities and personal experience with hardship, our understanding of history, and our perceptions of the very real dangers facing the world.
The vitality of the American Republic has always been energized by the clash of differing opinions. The national character is rooted in the fertile engagement of divergent ideas that test and expand our wide-ranging perspectives. America has flourished on the principle of pluralism.
Our opinions, values, perceptions all deserve respect; yet we disagree vehemently on matters of fundamental importance. We have good reasons for holding our views. This is the way it is supposed to be in a healthy civil society.
And this begs a critical question: How can we find a way to live and work together in a time of maximum stress?
As sequential crises take hold, is the security of our families and communities important enough that we are willing to do what is necessary to build trust and dependability, meeting life-sustaining needs and working effectively with our neighbors – many of whom we have substantial differences with?
Are we prepared to struggle for this country shoulder-to-shoulder, indeed to be truly loyal to one another as Americans?
And, what is it really that makes this a cause worth fighting for?
I believe that such questions lead to the pivotal question I have described on this blog as a “severe choice” (June 24).
Many readers have expressed concerns about the imposing challenges these questions represent. Indeed, we stand at a monumental turning point in the nation’s history.
The survival of the Republic will require certain virtues that Americans are not generally known for—moral responsibility, dependability, trustworthiness. Our most fundamental challenge will be learning to view others – especially our opponents – in essentially ethical rather than political terms.
This is not about charity. A level of civility is required that goes far beyond kindness and common decency. If Americans are to turn the corner, it will be with a civilized and responsible attitude that appears unfamiliar at present.
Cooperation does not require compromising our principles. Indeed, unexpected opportunities for influencing one another will surely come with working together to address common needs, especially in the face of crises.
Times of danger tend to open ones’ personal perspective, allowing us to see with new eyes and hear with new ears.
It is neither practical nor civilized to go to war with one another when our common interests depend on our ability to communicate clearly and to engage in rational problem-solving. What is essential is not that we agree, but that we seek dependable cooperation in the face of serious threats.
Naturally, this will require more than a right attitude. Practical skills will be necessary to help us work effectively in small groups, ensure food security, make consultative decisions and manage conflict, organize projects and start small businesses.
Together we will share and develop the necessary skills.
Under the present conditions of social disintegration, strident divisiveness, and dysfunctional institutions, I have encouraged Americans to turn aside from partisan politics, at least temporarily, to focus primary attention on practical needs in our local communities.
I am not at all opposed to effecting change by traditional means. However, as the crisis deepens I believe we will gain far more safety and control over our lives through community building. And, I believe this effort will impart many of the essential lessons that will lead to a decent future.
This is my message. Dependable community is the ground of civilization.
However complex the problems we face, in the final analysis we are confronted by a single simple question. Will we accept the destruction of civilized society, a rending of the very fabric of the Republic, and retreat into a state of siege? Or, will we have the courage to begin anew?
A note to readers: Please watch for the next blog post on or about August 5.