Change has been accelerating for much of our lives, but it is especially so now. These are not normal times. The challenges are unsettling, especially when the outcome is uncertain. It is hard to think clearly when life is in turmoil, and easy to fear for the worst.
We are all human. We need to feel secure in our lives, and security needs stability. But is all change bad? Challenges bring personal growth, greater maturity, and sometimes wisdom.
Can there be a positive dimension to hardship and struggle that make us see with new eyes and reexamine our values and priorities?
Values are tested when we are confronted with change. This can strengthen our self-confidence. Clarity about values brings clearness to our lives.
Plural and conflicting values are inevitable in this world. Human beings have never agreed on values, and even personal values occasionally come into conflict with each other.
But we do not usually think about this. While it is natural for values to be influenced by events, it is when we hit a real bump in the road that we start paying attention.
Unexpected bumps can be uncomfortable. But unexpected people can be kind of nice. Especially if we can get to know them. And especially if we avoid trying to force them into our own boxes!
Diversity is a source of security. It contributes constructive ideas, practical skills and creative thinking. It also exposes us to new ideas and perspectives.
Living in a pluralistic society exposes us to a rich abundance of the initiative and energy conducive to prosperity. And with the benefits of diversity, we gain the experience of others and inspiration for ourselves.
The American character has been formed by the gifts and rewards of diversity. Our story has been distinguished by curiosity, loyalty, and hopefulness over the course of more than two centuries.
No one expected Americans to be perfect, but the Founders gave us simplicity in the United States Constitution, a form of governance that assumes the capacity for virtue.
Two concerns that I think pivotal in any consideration of our national identity include an understanding of this expectation of virtue, and, secondly, our mutual respect as citizens who understand the value of diversity.
Personal independence and acceptance of individual differences go hand-in-hand. In the end, one cannot survive without the other.
Again, I ask the question: Who are we, as Americans? Who do we want to be, really?
The degradation we are experiencing today is real. Americans have witnessed a profound deterioration of moral character and social responsibility in recent decades.
The collapse of social order has complicated origins. A lack of perceptiveness and foresight among both political leadership and financial professionals has undermined trust and social stability on a broad scale.
Institutions we have depended on are facing moral and financial bankruptcy, try as they might to cover it up. Systems are breaking down; people are losing their grip.
However, we are all responsible—because we are all capable of responding constructively.
We are not prisoners of the past nor slaves to the present. We are perfectly capable of standing on our own feet and accepting one another as fellow-citizens, even with our faults and blemishes.
Yes, it is true that we are confronted with the consequences of the past. We have lost our sense of direction and ultimate purpose, and thus the conceptual framework upon which rational judgment depends.
What is to be done? OK, listen carefully!
Truth is not invented by tearing people down. The future cannot be built on blame. It is clear we must overcome the alienation that divides us.
Whatever our disputes and misunderstandings, our fears and uncertainties, the survival and well-being of our families and our neighbors depends on our readiness to work together in response to practical necessity.
We cannot afford to allow our differences to disrupt our ability to make our communities safe and our necessities secure. We are all Americans. We have differences, but divisiveness alone will bring our downfall.
If we wish to meet needs and resolve problems, we will have to step aside from unproductive bickering, extricate ourselves from the wreckage, and rise above our differences—to face the complex dangers now imposing on our future.
You may watch for the next post on or about January 17.
A note to regular readers: In the coming weeks we will explore views of our national past through the eyes of economic historian Niall Ferguson, social philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville, and conservative commentator Richard Weaver.