Living or working with other people may be the most difficult thing we ever do. Even a marriage can be hard work. And yet, if we choose to rebuild the foundations of the American Republic this is our core mission.
To regain the free and fully engaged civil society of the American past, and renew the strength of America that sustains both vision and spirit, we must find common purpose. Without dependable communities there can be no real safety or security. And, without trust nothing is dependable.
These are prizes to be fought for and gained through consistent and determined effort. Where do we start? How can we navigate the inevitable bumps and bruises of working relationships in a time of crisis?
When we are working with someone who is emotionally mature and relatively open-minded it might not be hard to develop an understanding. If, however, we need to work with someone who is anxious or has wounds from the past, (or is convinced they already know everything), then building a constructive relationship will take time and patience.
Rising above our differences is almost always possible, if we have the patience and will to persist.
There are two basic requirements. The first is to get our motives straight – to have a positive attitude and clearly formed intentions. The second is to gain practical interpersonal skills. Both will be addressed in the coming book.
When in any potentially sensitive interpersonal relationship it is wise to look beyond superficial impressions. We need to recognize the free personhood and integrity of other individuals, regardless of their experience or perceptions.
Relatively new acquaintances may not seem attractive at first, or might actually seem more attractive than they deserve. We must try patiently to discover who they really are.
Each of us is a complex mystery. We can only come to genuinely know one another if we have the generosity of spirit to inquire and take interest. This takes time, but can be a rich and meaningful experience.
Stephen Covey has written that “every human has four endowments – self awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom…, the power to choose, to respond, to change.”
If we seek to build trust, and if we believe in freedom, all of these endowments must be recognized and actualized.
Many of us are unaware of our own endowments, our own potential to grow and mature. And the surest way to learn and grow is in the effort to build functional relationships.
Many people will not share our personal vision or sense of purpose. They may not understand what we are inviting them to do, and may be distrustful until we prove ourselves. We need to communicate clearly, making sure we are understood, and find ways to work together.
We cannot wait for others to take the lead. The initiative is ours to take. This is how we test our skills and put rubber to the road.
Elbert Hubbard said, “Responsibility is the price of freedom.” And Gandhi said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”
Understanding comes through relationship, and the best way to build strong relationships is to team up to meet community needs. It is in working together to address felt-needs and resolve practical problems that we really come to know one another.
Now, suppose we need to join forces with people who are very different from us. Perhaps our politics are at odds, or someone has religious or philosophical views that we find strange or unpleasant.
How can we get along – and actually trust others in difficult or dangerous circumstances? We will touch on this in the next post.
Again, I believe the bottom line is this: In every matter our concern must be to preserve and deepen the level of trust, because we can expect to remain under the pressures of disrupted lives and deteriorating social conditions for a long time.
Americans are a resourceful people. We will get through this and come out on the other side as better people.
Note to readers: Please look for the next post on or about February 14.
The introduction and several chapter drafts from the forthcoming book are posted at this page; see above. Please see especially Chapter One: American Crucible.