And what about our differences? The hostility and divisiveness that currently separates Americans is unquestionably the most intense since the Civil War.
Our differences are based on many things, among them ethical and religious values, social philosophy, electoral politics, and our understanding of history, as well as economic disparities and personal experiences with hardship.
Many at both extremes have distorted perceptions of the views and intentions of the other, and remain unwilling to seriously investigate actual differences.
These are dangerous times.
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 a rich national diversity.
Our opinions, values, perceptions all deserve respect; yet we disagree vehemently today on matters of fundamental importance.
In addition to these differences, America also faces a broad range of growing practical problems. As material crises take hold, will the security of our families and communities be important enough to encourage cooperation and loyal dependability?
Effective problem-solving and meeting life-sustaining needs with our neighbors – many of whom we disagree with – may soon be essential.
Are we prepared to work shoulder-to-shoulder in our local communities for the sake of safety and relative comfort? Can we be loyal to one another as neighbors – and as Americans?
The survival of the Republic will require virtues that Americans are no longer generally known for: moral responsibility, dependability, steadfast loyalty.
Our greatest challenge will be learning to view problems and people – especially people who are different from us – in essentially ethical rather than political terms.
This is not about charity. Civilization requires a level of civility that goes far beyond kindness and common decency. If Americans are to turn the corner, it can only be with a responsible and inquiring attitude that is unfamiliar at present.
Genuine communication does not require compromising principles.
Indeed, opportunities for influencing others will proliferate when we work together, addressing urgent common needs.
Times of danger tend to open minds and alter perspective. We begin to see with new eyes and to recognize the dynamics of cause and effect.
It is neither practical nor civilized to go to war with one another when our common interests depend on our ability to communicate effectively and engage in rational problem-solving.
What is most urgent is not that we agree on religion or politics, but that we seek dependable cooperation in the face of material threats.
Practical tools are needed to make acceptable decisions in small groups. Skills will be required to ensure food security, to make consultative decisions and manage conflict, to organize projects and start small businesses.
We each can develop needed skills.
Under the present conditions of social disintegration, strident divisiveness, and dysfunctional institutions, I have encouraged Americans to turn aside from partisan politics temporarily to focus attention on the practical needs in our local communities.
I am not opposed to effecting change by traditional means. As the crisis deepens, however, I suggest we will gain more immediate control over our lives through collaboration and community building.
And, dependable community is the ground of civilization.
Our values, principles, and ideals need a stable forum in which to be communicated, cultivated, and spread. This will never happen by force.
The present crisis will be long and the challenges extremely difficult. We must prevail for the sake of our children and the future of America. Failure would be catastrophic.
Ultimately we are confronted by a single simple question: Will we accept the destruction of civilized society, a rending of the fabric of the American Republic, and retreat into a state of siege?
Or, will we have the courage and the will to do the real work?
A note to readers: An introduction to this project and several chapter drafts from the forthcoming book are available on this page. Please watch for the next blog post on or about July 17.