The challenges we face in communicating and understanding one another are formidable. Americans have always been politically contentious, as one would expect in a democratic republic. But, as we all know, something has changed. Public discourse has been stifled and personal relationships degraded by an atmosphere dominated by fear and distrust. Alienation has degenerated into open conflict and hostility. Our differences are many and they are significant.
The failure of meaningful dialogue has obstructed communication, suppressed perceptual sensitivity, and closed the door to understanding.
The observations offered in the first half of my forthcoming book reflect on the American character and the past—ideas and perspectives that transcend partisan politics. We have a responsibility to reflect on the history that has led us to the place where we now find ourselves.
No one has a window to the truth. Our knowledge and perspective are influenced by personal experience and investigation. Nothing is ever quite what the human mind and imagination make it out to be. And in this extraordinary time, we are confronted with rumor, misinformation, and manipulative politics—all of which degrade our ability to perceive things accurately.
If we are serious about seeking a future we can live with, where freedom is protected and prosperity has a foundation in civil order, we must overcome the forces of disintegration. No enduring solutions will be found where there is alienation and destructiveness.
The United States was conceived as a nation of laws because prosperity is not possible where the subversion of trust dominates the social order. Law can be debated, negotiated, altered. But the rule of law is a fundamental principle of human security which cannot be subverted without the eventual collapse of human civilization. Once it is gone, there will be no safety and no easy recovery.
A future that affirms the constructive vision embedded in the Constitution might not be in the interests of a few. But the vast majority of Americans clearly desire to see the possibility for civility, cooperation, and dependability in the future of this nation.
The challenge we face in defusing distrust calls for authentic dialogue and a willingness to engage in working relationships. This is fundamental. Nothing will otherwise be possible.
So the question before us is whether, and to what extent, we are willing to accept the conditions and discipline it requires. As demanding as this might appear, it is a project with clearly defined requirements and available means.
To begin, communities will need to sit down and agree on guidelines that make respectful communication possible and constructive action possible. OK, listen now! This is not a normal situation. We are hovering on the edge of collapse. So, acceptable language and rules of engagement must be defined and agreed upon among neighbors, in communities, and in business relationships.
This is essential. The necessity for creating secure conditions for mutual assistance and collaboration will have to be taken seriously. If we want this potential to come alive, we will have to respect and protect it.
As I have repeatedly said, engaging with diversity does not mean altering personal views or opinions. Diversity is a form of wealth. It provides us with knowledge, experience, and the learned skills that allow us to meet shared needs and resolve local problems.
There are many places in this world where we can express our views, and can do so every day. But in the local community, let’s do this with objective concern for the reality at hand. In other words, let’s not inflict strong feelings on others in a manner that compromises working relationships, safety and trust.
The truth about people who differ from us is not what the politics of conflict want us to think. Rather it is what they actually think, believe, and wish for. Without this information we are flying blind.
Understanding is only possible when we listen with the intention of understanding.
In a collapsing civil order, we can set aside our personal philosophies provisionally. Because safety will require effective communication, graceful collaboration, and dependable relationships.
You may watch for the next post on or about December 4.
Note to readers: An introduction to the coming book, and several sample chapters are available in draft, linked at the top of the homepage.