Rationality and the Conflict of Values

We have been talking about values.  So, let’s turn our attention to the most fundamental of questions: Why are values essential to civilization?  How can shared values provide stability, sanity and safety, as society passes through major disruptions and change?

Most perplexing, why do our own personal values sometimes conflict with each other?

Human values grounded in religious teachings have remained relatively consistent for thousands of years.  The great majority are still accepted as valid today despite a society that is largely indifferent or even hostile to religion.

Since ancient times the history of ideas has been dominated by the assumption that society, and indeed all of human reality, is an integrated and coherent whole, governed by rules that are consistent and rational.

Consequently, it has been assumed that every genuine question must have a single correct answer and that the true answers to all questions must be compatible.

To put it another way, all truths were assumed to be harmonious, and when accurately understood could be expected to conform in consonance with one another.

This thinking is certainly logical, and it is reasonable that people would wish to believe in it.

However, as the human world has become more complex, we have been confronted with uncompromising evidence that reality and truth are not so simple.

We find ourselves increasingly challenged by choices that are incommensurable – that is, impossible to compare or measure against one another.  And, our most cherished values can come into direct conflict with one another, despite each being entirely good and reasonable in its’ own right.

This in no way questions the facts or the validity of the values.  Rather, it challenges us to make difficult moral judgments in complex circumstances.

Clearly, increasing complexity and morally perplexing choices will be present in our lives from now on.

Even science, the realm of endeavor most closely associated with reason and logic, is confronted with problems that present moral dilemmas – choices between evils.  And, the nature of complexity has proven mathematically impervious to predictability and rational expectations.

I do not deny an ultimate holistic conception of reality as an all-inclusive functional domain – one true Reality.

However, I suggest that its’ character requires us to mature – mentally, emotionally, spiritually – by engaging with ambiguity, paradox, and logical incongruities, all of which are intrinsic aspects of the world we are given.

I believe that to a limited extent such adversities can be addressed in similar ways by religious and non-religious people alike.  All of us face the daunting challenge of distinguishing between true reality and the myriad alternative realities imagined by the human mind.

Unsurprisingly, the earliest historical references to conflicting values and moral dilemmas appear in religious literature.

An incident I find most compelling is Jesus’ confrontation with a crowd of people who brought accusations of adultery against an unidentified woman.

Her accusers ended up walking away from Jesus (and from her) confounded by the rationality of His response to conflicting values. (John 8)

The letter of the law was not good enough.  It was a moment which I believe to be a turning point in human history.

The Apostle Paul describes an agonizing mental and spiritual ordeal in which he confronted insoluble choices.  His may be the earliest written account of the dilemmas presented by the two-fold nature of the human Will. (Romans 7)

Augustine, the philosopher and theologian of the 4th and 5th centuries, confronts the same problem in his “Confessions”, and “On Free Choice of the Will”, without resolution.

He finally reports his conclusion in “The City of God”, close to the end of his life.  And it is not what many would expect.

Augustine says we can only engage effectively with the conflicts and incongruities in life by means of love.

Yes, love, the ultimate law of unity and understanding that transcends diversity and differences, which prepares the way for problem-solving, and which aligns all aspects of our lives in a functional whole.

The way has been prepared for us in this world with severe tests of intellect and soul that will change us as we must be changed.

Tom

Dear readers:  Watch for the next post on or about August 23.

Values Matter

I have proposed that a small unified core group of determined Americans could generate a powerful moral presence in the United States – by defining basic values clearly and projecting a vision for the future with a positive spirit.

This would be immensely attractive to a nation desperate for the feel of solid ground beneath its feet.  However, it raises emotionally charged questions.

How will Americans determine those essential values we can agree on?  And, how can we then work together to resolve problems and meet shared needs despite the differences we cannot agree on?

We know we have values we cannot compromise.  Yet, we all wish for a safe, reliable, and productive civil order which can keep its balance as a pluralistic society.

Many of us have been feeling hopeless about the divisiveness and dysfunction we feel all around us.  But when we think of abandoning hope we are confronted with the prospect of a future that is far worse.

A nation collapsed in antipathy would be a nation where it is impossible to share our thinking or disseminate our ideas and beliefs.  And, social chaos would be a briar patch ripe for the predatory intentions of totalitarian despots.

A totalitarian America would, by definition, not be America.  It would be a dictatorship where liberty has vanished, questioning is forbidden, and the independence of the human spirit is crushed.

Is this our choice?

Primary values are never negotiable.  So, when we are confronted with a collision of values that cannot be reconciled, what is to be done?

Our choices are limited. For any group or authority to force a particular vision or interpretation of reality on others would be a violent denial of the principles that make a free society.

Would we destroy liberty in order to defend it?

We are left with the necessity for negotiating a state of cooperation and collaboration that permits a functional civil society, yet allows us to express and disseminate our values and our views.

We all need to stand firmly for what we believe. But, to rise above our differences so as to secure the safety and well-being of our communities is not to compromise our beliefs.

Aristotle is quoted as saying “Those that know, do. Those that understand, teach.” And, if we are confident in our knowledge and understanding, we are able to entertain diverse thoughts without accepting them.

A wise man named Walt Disney once said: “Our heritage and ideals, our code and standards – the things we live by and teach our children – are preserved or diminished by how freely we exchange ideas and feelings.”

What is essential is not that we agree on any aspect of personal belief, but that we collaborate to restore the integrity of a civil society that allows for constructive cooperation.  The safety of our families and the economic well-being of our future depend on our ability to engage with one another with dignity.

We cannot allow America to disintegrate in unrestrained acrimony.  Our challenge is to establish conditions in which we can sustain freedom, seek change, and attract others to constructive action.

In so doing, I propose general acceptance of the following shared values.  I expect we can also agree on others.  In this way we can claim the moral high ground and attract a growing number of Americans to join us.

First, an uncompromising commitment to defend the Constitution and a respect for the rule of law.

Second, that we embrace the following values as the foundations for unity:  Justice, equity, truthfulness, honesty, fair-mindedness, reliability, trustworthiness, and responsibility.

These are universal values and must be understood.

However, if we are to gain a hearing, we must first engage people with compassion and a willingness to actually comprehend what they see and think – and why.  Then the real work can begin.

If no one can hear us, we will have no influence over the future.

Tom

Dear readers, I will be taking a short break.  Watch for the next post on or about August 9.  You can support this blog and the book project by suggesting that your friends and associates take a look.

Will the Center Hold?

Seeking an American renewal will be an arduous task requiring genuine dialog and rational negotiations. Basic values and national purpose need to be on the table.  Our differences are great and some have not been resolved for 200 years.  But, civilized debate may not turn out quite as we expect – if all sides actually listen.

At this very challenging moment for Americans I suggest that the goal of civil dialog should be to answer the following questions:

Will a courageous few stand together at the center of national unity?

Are we willing to rise above our differences to rebuild civil society based on moral responsibility and basic shared values?

Will this alliance of loyal and determined citizens establish itself as a civilized American “center” that transcends culture, religion, politics?

Will the center hold?

As difficult as it is to visualize how this can happen, I expect Americans will rise to necessity. Because we must.

The only alternative could easily be catastrophic collapse – with no future possibility of influencing receptive minds or furthering personal agendas.

I believe such a challenging course of action can ultimately succeed because it does not need to begin with large numbers.  A small unified core group of determined Americans can make this happen.  But, it will require citizens with vision, tenacity, and compassion who invoke a powerful moral presence.

Such an honorable vision for the future which embodies a generous and welcoming spirit will be immensely attractive to a nation desperate to feel solid ground beneath its’ feet.  Increasing numbers will respond.  A few at first, then many.

I expect the vision of a civil order based on trust and responsibility will draw Americans to it from every walk of life – from every religious faith, from every economic condition and political philosophy.

Why?  Because without safety, civility, and a stable order no one will be listening.  The business of the nation will grind to a halt.

The first priority must be to defend the identity and character of the United States as a constitutional republic.  The second priority will be to do what Americans have always done: to debate our many differences with fairness and dignity.

What is essential is not that we agree on all aspects of personal belief, but that we restore the integrity of a civil society that allows for constructive cooperation, so that we can secure the safety of our families and the stability of civil order.

If this is indeed our priority, we cannot allow America to disintegrate in unrestrained acrimony.  We will have to choose our battles.  Some issues might be argued more effectively on another day.

James Madison fought to have slavery abolished by the Constitution when it was first drafted in 1787.  It was painful for him to walk away from that vision, but he finally realized it threatened to kill the entire project.

It took decades for citizen abolitionists to get the job done.

Today, however, agreement about certain principles will be immediately necessary.  What must these be?

What are the core principles that will put America on the road to a self-respecting future? Not the core principles held dear by each of us personally, but rather those necessary to pull a diverse people together to make our local communities safe and dependable.

Each of us must consider our personal willingness to engage in respectful, meaningful dialog concerning these questions.

As regular readers know, I have suggested several principles in this blog that I consider essential.  In addition to a firm defense of the Constitution, I have written of the necessity for trustworthiness and civility, for moral responsibility and the concept of constructive action.

A fully American future can only be reached by identifying where we can find common purpose.

An inclusive vision of the future does not require agreement, but rather genuine curious interest and understanding – and a shared loyalty to the nation we love.  Only then can we work together on real problems and real needs.

We are either all in, seeking to build a free and fair society, or we are each on our own in a disintegrating world.

Tom

Dear readers, please look for the next post on or about July 19.

The Second Amendment, Then and Now

The Bill of Rights, which includes the first ten amendments to the Constitution, was first proposed to Congress by James Madison as articles to be incorporated into the main body of the Constitution.

Congress approved twelve articles of amendment to the Constitution in 1789 and submitted them to the states for ratification.  Contrary to Madison’s proposal, they were submitted as “supplemental” additions.  Articles Three through Twelve were ratified by the required number of states and became Amendments One through Ten in 1791.

The Second Amendment, which has become a matter of considerable interest in recent years, reads as follows:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

This was not controversial at the time.  The concept existed in English common law long before the enactment of the Bill of Rights.  And, many Americans feel it necessary to own firearms today.

The importance of this issue to the Founders was quite clear.  James Madison, who introduced the language that became the Second Amendment, also wrote that “The Constitution preserves the advantage of being armed which Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation where the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.”

Alexander Hamilton, like Madison a strong advocate for Federalism, was equally explicit: “The constitution shall never be construed…to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms.”

Thomas Jefferson famously said: “No freeman shall be debarred the use of arms.” And he also wrote that “The strongest reason for the people to retain their right to keep and bear arms is as a last resort to protect themselves against tyranny in government.”

During the years just prior to the Revolutionary War there was mob violence in several of the colonies.  In addition, many Americans lived in or close to wilderness regions where conditions were essentially lawless.

The need people felt to protect their families was quite rational.

It should be noted that a primary motivation for supporting “a well regulated Militia,” expressed in the Second Amendment as “being necessary to the security of a free State,” was the strong opposition among the Founders to the concept of a standing army.

Thomas Jefferson put it this way: “None but an armed nation can dispense with a standing army.  To keep ours armed and disciplined is therefore at all times important.” “Every citizen should be a soldier,” he wrote. “This was the case with the Greeks and Romans, and must be that of every free state.”

The American reality in 1776 and 1791 was entirely different from that confronting us today.

Yet, news of social and religious violence imposes on our peace every day.  Older Americans are particularly sensitized to what has changed: the radical loss of trust and the absence of civility, ethical integrity, and social responsibility.

We must acknowledge the compelling reasons why so many feel it necessary to possess firearms.

It is in this context that I express my concern about the threat of force made or implied in the name of political ends.  We already face dangerous instability, a condition likely to grow worse as conditions deteriorate.  Political violence could easily tip us into chaos.

For those with the eyes to see, it is clear that the use of force for political ends will very likely produce exactly the opposite of its intended purpose.  There is a dynamic relationship between means and ends.  The character of our results will be determined by the character of the means we employ.

Indeed, violence committed by Americans against Americans would endanger the Constitution and contradict the rationale behind the incentive for violence itself.  The uniformed services are staffed by our own sons and daughters, brothers and sisters.  We need to win them over; not turn them against us.

We have pragmatic alternatives.  We need to learn what they are.  Both our purpose and our means must be carefully considered, and we need to get it right.

We face a long crisis.  Many dark and dangerous things can happen.

Tom

A reminder for readers: Please look for the next post on or about June 14.

Security and the Use of Force

I will address two questions involving the potential use of force in defending ourselves. The first is related to the security of our families and communities, the topic of recent blog posts.  The second relates to our ultimate purpose— the effective means by which the foundations of the American Republic can be secured and strengthened.

I will consider the first in this post and the second in the coming weeks.

There are several security issues that will concern us going forward.  Food security may become a serious threat to communities, and the disillusionment of our young people may have the most profound implications for the future.  However, the most unpredictable danger will be the unstable individual or group approaching from outside.

Whether unexpected visitors might be mentally unstable or motivated by dogmatic ideologies, or simply be in desperate need, will not be immediately apparent.

We would do well to deal with visitors in a respectful and humane manner, while remaining cautious and defensive.  The potential danger is real.  We must respond judiciously, communicating clearly with them, while summoning fellow community members for assistance.

In my view, we will also do well to remain sensitive to any positive value that might be presenting itself.  New faces will sometimes come to us with good character and valuable skills.

Gracious hospitality will always set the right tone, even if a visit needs to be kept brief.  Some of us have better verbal skills than others, or possess more disarming personalities.  Others may have weapons training or know martial arts.

An effective set of tools is offered by Target Focus Training (TFT), which includes skills for personal defense against lethal weapons.

If we keep weapons in the home we must manage them with utmost care.  Any weapon is an ever-present liability when kept in close proximity to our families.  Emotions can run high when we experience hardship.  As we all know, a gun can easily kill a loved one, even without an external threat.

In addition to first aid training, which is essential, each of us can seek conflict management and other defensive and peace-making skills.  It would be wise to prepare ourselves well in advance.  A list of self-determined guidelines and personal thresholds for action can be memorized in preparation for the unexpected.

It is important that our conscious purpose should not only be safety and survival, but also to build the principles we care about into our future.

Courage is a priceless virtue.  Not the courage to fight, but the courage to care.  It takes a brave heart to make peace, but compassion must be buttressed by backbone.

Women sometimes embrace this balance with natural equanimity, but the potential for danger must never be forgotten.

Meeting difficult encounters with a positive attitude is an ability that can save lives.  This can make the difference between friendship and enmity, between collaboration and catastrophe.

We have entered a long crisis.  People are coming unhinged.  We will often encounter the walking-wounded, and dangers will not always be obvious.

We will meet good people who have lost hope or are grieving deeply.  They may appear abrupt or angry at first.  We may not be sure who or what they are – but will soon come to realize we need not fear them.

Each of us is wounded in some way.

This is not about being nice or even socially responsible.  This is about treating one another with mutual respect as Americans.  It is about reconstructing the United States as the kind of country we want to live in, one soul at a time.

It all comes down to purpose: Security requires preparedness; healing requires grace; rebuilding the foundations requires vision.

We cannot afford to live in a state of siege behind walls that isolate us and appear hostile to others.  To give in to fear and retreat into defensive enclaves of survivalists would be to admit defeat.

Let us rather win over the confused, heal the wounded, and welcome the returning prodigal friend.  This is the true path to security.

Mature leadership greets each day with an open heart and an inclusive vision.

Tom

A note to readers:  You can support this blog and book project by suggesting that your friends and associates take a look.  And, please watch for the next post on or about May 17: “First Principles”.

Foundations for Security

In seeking security for those we care for at a time of crisis we would do well to consider the qualities of order and stability that security requires.

Safety depends on the conditions we put in place around us, and therefore upon our ability to provide for necessities and to create a dependable environment.  This includes access to adequate food and healthcare, a roof over our heads, safe functional sanitation, and absence of conflict, among other things.  None of these will be possible without proactive, trustworthy relationships with our neighbors.

With deteriorating social and economic conditions we will be exposed to the failure of institutions and systems we have depended on for basic needs.  Our neighborhoods may feel less safe.  Police protection may become less dependable.  Some individuals might lose their balance and become disoriented.

It is quite possible that we will find it necessary to organize our communities effectively to meet needs and resolve problems.

In a time of social degradation it would, in my view, be wise to think carefully and rationally about the potential for sociopathic violence.

But, let’s be clear: The possibility for violence is only one among a wide range of security concerns.  In the coming weeks I will touch on some of these, including ways we can both prepare for and limit personal encounters with violence.

As we experience increasing disorder, I expect it will become increasingly clear that we must assume responsibility for our own necessities.

Food security will be a major problem if we do not learn how to produce and preserve food.  Hunger is not fun and hungry people are often not very nice.  By the way, March and April are crucial months for planning gardens and preparing the soil in the northern hemisphere.

The greatest test for some may be the sudden recognition that we do not really know how to be self-sufficient.  Our well-being will depend on how we respond to these challenges.  And so, as we find our way forward in a new reality it will become apparent that the requirements of security are in fact the requirements of stable communities.

That said, let’s be realistic about the relative nature of security.

President Dwight Eisenhower, a five star general, reminded us of the limits: “If you want total security,” he said, “go to prison. There you’re fed, clothed, given medical care and so on. The only thing lacking… is freedom.”

Like President Eisenhower, Helen Keller also had a way of putting things in perspective.  Being both deaf and blind gave her insights into life that the rest of us would do well to think about.

Security is mostly a superstition,” she said. “It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it.  Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure.  Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”

Fear can interfere with our ability to address problems and to keep our heads clear in difficult circumstances.  However, security concerns certainly do need to be addressed to keep our families safe and our communities productive.

I suggest that a sequence of responsibilities applies to local communities:  Freedom depends on security, which depends on stability, which in turn depends upon honesty, trust, dependability, and forbearance.  All these depend on personal commitment and generosity of spirit.

There is one other essential component as well, which I call “constructive action.”  By this I mean the active condition in which dependable working relationships are built.

Trust and dependability among neighbors can only be functional in the presence of constructive action guided by principle and a shared sense of purpose.

Principle and purpose cannot be constrained.  Stability is only possible when we are in motion.  Constructive action supported by a shared sense of purpose will be the only way to navigate through dark times.

Stability is the necessary foundation for security.  And, constructive action allows us dynamic flexibility in responding to what the world throws at us.

All of this will also depend on our readiness to work closely with people we have differences with.

We cannot be tentative about this.  Building trustworthy communities will not be easy.  Our future depends on it.

Tom

Dear readers:  Please look for the next post on or about April 6.  To receive alerts by email when new posts are available, please click the “Follow” button on the right side of this page.

America: Meaning, Action, Place

We have been considering the value of local communities as the means for seeking safety and stability during a long crisis.  Further, I have argued that communities are the basic building-blocks of a civilized society.  Well-organized, fully functional communities will become the foundations for an American future we can respect and believe in.

Thoughtful readers will have recognized that the strategy proposed here implies a premise – a pattern and framework for action that few have imagined.

The United States is a large, diverse, and pluralistic nation.  Diversity and pluralism have long been elemental expressions of our national identity, and compelling evidence of the strength in the constitutional model that America demonstrates to a troubled world.

How can American communities restore meaning to the vision we have inherited?

No political philosophy is offered here; only a reminder that Americans are the beneficiaries of a priceless birthright: An exceptional Constitution, an “idea”, and a belief in ourselves that has carried us through crises and hardship for more than 200 years.

There is only one means for recovering the vision, attitude, and confidence that makes us who we are.  This will be through honest, rational engagement in the commitment to resolve local problems and address shared needs with our fellow-citizens.

The decisive success of such a bold undertaking can only be forged in the crucible of genuine communities – in our own communities – built in place, wherever we are.

To pull ourselves out of crisis and set course for a truly American future, it will be necessary to learn the lessons of civility, of operative unity, and the practical skills required for organizing and collaboration.

Ultimately these can only be learned through personal engagement and experience. We cannot overcome our fears and regain confidence in the future by isolating ourselves – either physically or emotionally.

The profile and characteristics of community required to overcome social disorder and estrangement will reflect, as much as possible, the diverse composition of America as a whole.

Yes, this will be extremely challenging.  But, we have no choice.

I have presented the rationale for ensuring that we know our neighbors and can depend on them.  I have spoken of the necessity to rise above our differences, at least to the extent that we can collaborate in addressing local problems and needs.

The resources, skills and tools needed for these endeavors are available and can be learned by anyone.  And, I assure you that the frame of mind that allows community to flourish can be achieved by every American.

However, we have not talked about the challenges posed by ideologies or dogmatism or domineering personalities, or the inevitable demands of simply working with difficult people.

We will do this in the blog and in the book, and I will need your feedback to keep it real.

First and foremost, however, one thing must be made perfectly clear.

Those who retreat into isolated communities that represent distinct religious groups or political ideologies, will launch us backward and set the stage for disaster.

An isolationist, fear-based attitude would be subversive to both the purpose and structure of the United States as a Constitutional Republic.

Such an error would be an ironic rejection of everything America stands for, not simply projecting a hostile predisposition toward perceived evils, but toward the integrity of the Republic itself.

The future is ours to build.  The center must hold.

There are effective ways to protect the Constitution and restore the American Idea.  Alienation can only lead to chaos, and violence will subvert its’ own intended purpose.

Our methods and means must be fully compatible with the future we seek.  As the means, so the end.

Neither morality or social order are the products of abstract intellectual rules.  Rather, they are lived in and through active working relationships that engender mutual bonds and instill values that transcend selfish interests.

Where there is a will, fellowship among people and groups will lead to the communication and understanding needed to promote stability and the regeneration of the nation.

Ours is a great honor and responsibility: To restore the United States of America to its rightful place in history.  The future of humankind depends on it.

Tom

Dear readers:  Please look for the next post on or about March 23.  You may register for emailed alerts by clicking Follow on the right side of this page.

Finding Courage in Crisis

The courage to step forward in a time of crisis often means responding to pain and frustration as a positive personal act.  This can be especially challenging if it feels like the world around us is unraveling.

To persevere in the present turmoil, we are in need of a vision of the future that embodies our hopes and a purpose we believe in.  Our values and sense of personal integrity are vitally important.  But, ideas are useless without action.

What is to be done?

Our responses to a crisis will be guided by our values and sense of belonging.  We must never forget that there can be no freedom without personal responsibility.  This is the backbone of a free society.

This is our country and our world, and the problems we face belong to us as well.  In my view, a commitment to the integrity of civil order is a commitment to ones’ own personal integrity.

We would do well to think about who we are and what integrity means to us.  This will lead to greater self-sufficiency and a stronger sense of purpose and belonging.

Self-sufficiency and purpose give us self-confidence; both are important.  Self-sufficiency concerns practical matters and will-power.  But purpose has to do with ideas, and ideas can be problematic.

So, let’s think about this.

Sense of purpose is a personal matter, yet it would be useless in a vacuum.  It builds on creative thinking and adapts to change.  If we are not engaged, thinking and responding, we are not paying attention.

However, purpose also implies a future.  How can we think about the future when all we know is the past?

It would be easy to attach ourselves unwittingly to ideas or expectations that are based solely on past circumstances.  There is both strength and danger here.

Most of us develop a firm commitment to certain ideas.  This has value, so long as we keep our minds open.  We need the capacity to stick to our beliefs and to follow through with plans.  Otherwise nothing would get done.

But, at a time of extraordinary disruption and change, when the future is hard to imagine, purpose and expectations can sometimes take unexpected turns – or disappear into a fog.

We know what kind of world we wish to live in, at least in general terms, but the details of the future will be veiled from view.

Why?  Because the emerging reality of the future will remain in constant motion during a long crisis.  And, in the coming years we can expect to be bombarded by sequential crises

This is why shared moral values and agreement on basic principles are important in genuine community.  A vision for the future needs to be built upon mutual respect and understanding, rather than on the assumptions of a crumbling past.

Even in the midst of chaos, “constructive action” can be understood as the means by which we unite and progress toward intended goals, not away from them.

So, let’s keep two priorities in mind:  First, to hold firmly to values capable of guiding us through turmoil.  Second, to stay alert, allowing flexibility of judgment and adjusting our thinking as conditions change.

If we believe in freedom we cannot allow presuppositions to set the future in concrete. That is not what freedom is about.

Let’s be clear.  Assumptions that we carry with us from the past are dinosaurs that threaten our ability to create the future.  Our values and principles must be permitted to guide our way, based on the realities at hand.

We may dislike the conditions in which we find ourselves at any particular moment.  We may determine to alter them.  But, to be rigid and inflexible would court disaster.  Our independence as free people depends on our capacity to engage effectively with ever-changing circumstances.

We are challenged to keep our balance at the vortex of historic change, resisting absolutism and bigotry in the spirit of liberty.  Our values will support personal integrity and trustworthiness; our vision will help us keep our bearings as we traverse a stormy sea.

To survive and serve we must summon the courage to spread our wings and soar on the wind.

Tom

Please look for the next blog post on or about February 23.

A note to new readers:  Blog entries are posted on alternating Fridays on both this and a Facebook page.  A project description, an introduction to the forthcoming book, and several chapter drafts are posted on this page.

From Darkness to Light

Without neighbors we can depend on, how will we find safety for our families and the strength to build the future?  Tell me, please, in what place other than our local communities do we have the opportunity amid deepening turbulence to forge dependable relationships, heal wounds, and influence our destiny?

I have never said it will be easy.  Responsibility never is.  We face an extraordinary turning point, an oncoming sequence of crises that will challenge each of us to rise to a new level.

Do we imagine that a shining superhero will rescue us from chaos?  Or will we, as I asked in the last post, pick ourselves up, reach out to our neighbors, and do what needs to be done?

This is an uncompromising question.  Not to answer it, or to defer commitment, is in fact to answer it.  Failure to rise to necessity is to accept defeat.

Whatever ones’ personality, political philosophy or religious belief, we have an unavoidable choice to make.  Either we retreat into ourselves, accepting what is given as beyond our control, or we step forward to engage hardship and purpose with constructive intent.

This is a very personal choice, but at a time of existential crisis for America it takes on great significance – for ourselves, for the nation and for the world.

The United States has served as a model for governance and an engine of creative vitality that is unparalleled in human history.  The American idea has been a beacon of hope for people everywhere.  There has never been anything else like it.

And, the world is watching.

To hesitate would be to act as victims rather than as Americans.  It would be to choose loss over promise, helplessness over responsibility.

We may be temporarily intimidated by difficult circumstances.  But we must never give in, and never lose sight of the dawn of a new day that even now lights the horizon.

Living with purpose gives us courage and inspiration.  Without the courage to begin anew, we will join the slide into turmoil.

Strengthening our communities will not isolate us from uncertainty.  It will provide only limited protection as an island of safety.  What it can do, however, and will do if we are determined, is to open the door to genuine possibilities — dependable neighbors, mutual assistance, food security, and economic renewal on a human scale.

It positions us to best keep our balance, mentally and spiritually.  And, it keeps the potential for an American future alive.

Working with people is probably the most challenging part of life.  Choosing to work together will require perseverance and forbearance – a readiness to exercise tolerance, patience, self-control.  Communicating effectively will become a necessity.

There will always be difficult people to test us.

Our job is not to be heroes or caretakers or managers, although these roles may call on us at times.  Our job is to win over hearts and minds to the cause of reason, safety, mutual respect.

Only then will it be possible for fear to give way to sincere listening, anxiety to understanding.

No one is asking that we change our views.  Our lessons, (and those we need to teach), are those of democracy: Patience, problem-solving, teamwork and collaboration.

Progress will come one step at a time and will often seem painfully slow.

Making a commitment to stay positive requires considerable resolve.  But, focusing on productive purpose and building dependable relationships can make a very big difference.

The negativity that imposes itself on us may appear powerful, but it can only exist in the absence of constructive action, and only has the energy we allow it.

When we set out on a practical path and offer encouragement to others with a friendly spirit, we become as a light that pushes back the darkness.

If we meet with overwhelming negativity, it may be wise to take our energy elsewhere.  But, we must never allow our vision to dim or our compassion to be compromised.

Darkness can always be countered with light.  Darkness is the absence of light and has no substance of its own.

The light of a small candle defies even the darkest night.

Tom

Please look for the next post on or about February 9:  Finding courage in crisis.

A note to new readers:  Blog entries adapted from the forthcoming book are posted on alternating Fridays on both this, the main blog site and a Facebook page.  To receive alerts by email you may click “Follow” on the right side of your screen.

Turning Point for America

Whether our ancestors came to this continent by choice or in slavery, or were forcibly separated from their indigenous American roots, all of us are estranged from the lands and lives of our forbears.

For some the escape from oppression or deprivation has taken great determination and willpower.  With a strength rooted in the individualism of the survivor, Americans have reconstructed human society on the basis of association, reciprocity, and principle: freedom of thought, economic independence, and a new sense of belonging that transcended social and religious differences.

Despite the hardships, European settlers formed communities and built a vibrant civil society that flourished through the first half of the 19th century.

However, our inquisitive nature and the inclination to range far and wide across the North American continent soon took us away from physical roots and led to the society we know today – mobile, disconnected, alienated, and suspicious of differences.

Cut off from the cultural foundations that provided previous generations with the basis for social stability, personal identity, and moral integrity, our values have become less confident, our standards less clear.

First railways, and then a proliferation of highways, major industrial enterprises and shopping malls facilitated unrestrained pursuit of economic productivity and material gain. Cheap energy made many things possible.  Big always seemed better and was certainly more profitable.

Somehow we lost any sense of proportion, purpose, or belonging.  A society once anchored by small businesses and community cohesion soon fell apart, morphing into urban sprawl, broken families, and lost dreams.

What have we been thinking?  Did we ever really have a vision?

We have lost interest in community, except in isolated rural areas that have found themselves increasingly on the defensive, both socially and economically.

For new immigrants the trials have always been greatest.  And for people of color, especially blacks, numerous setbacks keep resurfacing.

Paradoxically, the resulting loss of social cohesiveness has led to diminishing independence and self-sufficiency for virtually everyone.

Many of us have a haunting awareness of the deterioration and decay of American society. Some have responded with inarticulate anger, with little understanding of the historical context or economic forces that are contributing to their unease.

Do we understand the forces of disruption that are confronting us?

Sensing the loss of vitality in an economic order that once provided us with the dignity of self-sufficiency, and watching the deterioration of the civil order we have depended on, we look for something or someone to blame.

In the past year this blog has reflected on a national character that has, historically, embodied conflicting values: generosity and self-indulgence, a welcoming inclusiveness and an unfriendly prejudice.  We now find ourselves at a turning point at which hard choices are becoming clear.

The positive ideals that have given us a feeling of dignity are partly veiled from memory, and the need to clarify our identity as a nation has become clear.

Never fully realized, the visionary foundations laid down in 1787 remain ideals.  The genius of our Constitution has allowed the nation to grow and mature.  Yet, we find ourselves in confusion today, without a vision, and without a sense of community we can trust or depend on.

As we find ourselves confronted with growing instability and uncertainty, I believe this is the only place that offers us effective control over our destiny – our own local communities.  It is here that the future will be determined.

Yet, we know very little about how to make community work.

We are presented with a formidable task.  Without trustworthy neighbors and coherent communities, how are we to engage constructively with America as a whole – a people uprooted and disorganized in the wasteland of a broken society?

How will we build dependable relationships, a stable civil order, and a safe future for our children and grandchildren?

I do not voice this question as an intellectual exercise, but rather as a personal challenge to my readers as thinking, caring, self-respecting individuals.

This is our turning point.  Do we have the will to rise above our differences to engage with our neighbors to meet local needs and resolve shared problems?

Do we have a choice?

I don’t think so.

Tom

Please look for the next post on or about January 26.

In the Crucible of Crisis

The extraordinary challenges confronting the American people mark a turning point and an unambiguous test of America’s place in history.

For more than two hundred years the United States has stood before the world as a beacon of hope, a source of creative imagination and ingenuity, and as a singular model of political freedom, social diversity, and economic vitality.

In the cauldron of crisis it is easy to forget the unparalleled historic meaning of the United States, and the role it has played and will continue to play in the progress of an ever-advancing civilization.

Yet, our confidence in the future is shaken by abandoned responsibility and collapsing institutions.  Our economic well-being and social coherence as a nation have been weakened, and the generosity of spirit for which Americans have long been known has faded.

As we begin a new year, I am stepping away from recent topics to revisit the central theme of this blog and forthcoming book.

Most of my posts are adapted from a working manuscript.  They usually appear on alternating Fridays here at http://www.freedomstruth.net – and at facebook.com/freedomstruth.  You will find a project description on this page, an introduction to the book, and drafts of several chapters.

My question is this:  Is there a diverse and loyal core of American citizens who possess the will and the vision to refine our shared identity as a nation at this great turning point?

The turning point I speak of is not political.  It is social and economic, defined by crises and brought on by lack of foresight and the abandonment of moral responsibility over many years.

I believe this is a critical moment; a time to consider our identity as a people.

Are we prepared to stand firm amidst chaotic disruptions and rise above our differences to seek a common understanding and vision – an “American idea”?

My message is brief.  It will be short on analytical detail and will avoid blame.  There is more than enough blame to go around and we all know about it.

Rather, it will focus on the essentials of mind and attitude, of moral character, and of our relationships with one another that will be required to go forward – to turn despair into courage and failure into honor and self-respect.

The book will acknowledge certain past mistakes and failures of responsibility. We will briefly consider the manner in which we have gradually abandoned control over our lives, making ourselves vulnerable to the present circumstances.

However, it will do so not to fix blame, but for the purpose of understanding the steps required to build a stable future we can all accept and believe in.

We all yearn for a less partisan and more civil national discourse. Let us accept that diverse views are needed, however divergent they may be, if we are to identify effective solutions.  Practical problem-solving best occurs with input from varied perspectives.

In the present dangerously fragile context, priority must go to ensuring the safety and well-being of our families and communities.  This will depend on trustworthiness and teamwork despite our differences.

There can be no freedom without trust.  And, we cannot begin to build trust or address the larger issues in our future without first securing stable local forums in which to dialog, strategize and collaborate.

Is this really possible?  Yes, but only with great patience, a commitment to justice, and an effort to envision the end in the beginning.

The United States has gained its vitality from our diversity and the creative engagement found in the clash of differing opinions.

I will not ask you to alter your views, but to listen, understand, and debate.  Our differences must not be permitted to subvert the unity of purpose that defines us as a nation.

At a time of extraordinary existential threat we are confronted with a stark choice.

Will we seek the ideal made possible by the United States Constitution?  Will we defend and protect two hundred years of commitment, hard work, and sacrifice by generations of Americans who have given their lives to this unprecedented vision?

Or, will we give way to the emotions of uncompromising partisanship – and allow a great trust to pass away?

Tom

Dear readers, you can support this project by suggesting that your friends and associates take a look.  Constructive feedback is much appreciated.  Please expect the next post on or about January 12.

The Forward Edge of History

The vision of America that came to life with the birth of the Nation was unprecedented in history.  It is subverted today by a bitter divisiveness that disallows dialog and obstructs decision-making.

To regain the integrity of that vision – and to build a future we can all believe in, Americans must navigate carefully through currents of alienation, hostility, and misinformation.

Violence begets violence in a downward spiral, verbal or otherwise. Words can ignite fierce, uncontrollable fires.  And, irresponsible, dishonest or self-serving actions can do the same.

Destructiveness can take many forms.

When the banks nearly collapsed in 2008, the United States hovered on the edge of catastrophe.  Americans discovered that failures of responsibility, foresight, and common sense involved the very people and institutions we depend on.

We were stunned by the foolishness that came to light in places where we are most vulnerable.  It was a startling discovery: A cavalier disregard for the interests of both citizens and nation – by institutions we had previously regarded as models of dependability.

In retrospect, however, we can see that this crisis has long been coming, and that it reveals far more than foolishness.

For many years we have watched a broad social deterioration in America that comes with a self-centered lack of principles and the absence of genuine values.

Respected national leaders have stained themselves.  We have even seen immoral and deeply hurtful actions committed by religious leaders and clergy, the supposed exemplars of integrity.

Where will it stop?  In addition to the material damage done to our lives, the rampant failure of responsibility appearing at the core of our society is demoralizing.

There is nothing more destructive.  Indeed, it strikes at the foundations of civilization.

It is easy to get caught up in emotional feelings at a time like this.  We have healing work to do.  If we wish to reaffirm the ultimate purpose of this great nation, it will be necessary to modulate our speech and better manage our emotions.

Times of peril require that we communicate carefully and avoid contributing to inflamed passions, however offended we may be.  Hurled accusations and insults make it impossible for others to hear reason.

The trouble with blame is, first, that it tends to be indiscriminate. It blinds us to the complexity of circumstances, and to the plural identities of those who disagree with us, or who may have just made some bad mistakes.

We often fail to see that we share many similar values and commitments with those who anger us.

Secondly, blaming will blind us to looming perils that are the fault of no one.  A fierce storm has come upon us.  We need each other if we are to take responsibility for the needs of our local communities.

Make no mistake: A storm of this magnitude will alter everyone’s perspective.  It is essential that we transcend personal fear, resisting its attendant passions, and learn to work with those around us.  We will build from there.

Some of you have expressed serious doubts that this is possible.

I never said it would be easy; I said we have no choice.  If we are unable to confront crises shoulder-to-shoulder as loyal Americans, freedom will be lost in the chaos of the deepening storm.

This will require patience, cooperation, and learned skills.  We must try to see the end in the beginning – the vision of a civil society where respectfulness, fairness, and moral responsibility prevail and freedom of expression is nurtured and defended.

This vision and purpose might just be worth our learning to get along, even for the most doubtful among us.  Local communities are the one place where we can be assured of having the freedom and capacity to make this happen.

Steadfast determination and the legendary American generosity of spirit are among the virtues that will be called upon again and again in the coming days.

We will not escape this great turning point in human history.  It will inflict tests upon us whether or not we respond with dignity and compassion – whether or not we take our rightful place at the forward edge of history.

Tom

A note to readers:  The blog will take a break until after Christmas.  Please watch for the next post on or about December 29.

If you wish to know more about the project you can find a description, along with an introduction to the forthcoming book and several chapter drafts elsewhere on this page.