If Americans are to regain confidence in the future, we must learn to work together effectively despite our differences. And, we will need to employ means that can actually lead to the ends we seek. Let’s proceed then with respectful deliberation rather than emotion and ego.
The clash of differing opinions is a time-honored American tradition. But, no American responds well to abuse, verbal or otherwise. Expressing our views is important, but nothing will subvert our purpose more quickly than a combative attitude that alienates the very people we need to influence or work with.
We have choices. We can choose to join forces to tackle the practical problems that threaten the safety and security of our communities. We can choose to distinguish ourselves with civility and common decency, cooperating to resolve practical problems.
It is only in dependable working relationships tasked with shared responsibilities that we can truly come to know and influence one another.
We live in a time of dangerous instability. It is a time to refrain from antagonistic words, a time to refocus our energy away from the dysfunction of partisan politics, so to secure essential needs at home.
I have described three essential elements that make safe communities possible. They are trust, dependability, and constructive action.
These elements will only be found in communities where neighbors rise above their differences to serve a higher purpose. And, for self-respecting Americans, purpose must be something more than “survival.”
As regular readers know, I use the term “constructive action” to describe the positive means by which we can realistically pursue shared goals. And, I have explained that constructive action is impossible without a shared sense of purpose.
Shared purpose, I wrote, is a lens through which a community can bring the challenges of necessity into focus and coordinate the efforts of diverse personalities. In working relationships, shared purpose can provide a standard by which to determine priorities and judge progress.
So, how can we understand constructive action?
Constructive action begins with the refusal to do harm. It is action taken with dignity, respectfully, which refuses to hurt or injure – by impatience, dishonesty, hatred, or wishing ill of anybody.
Please do not misinterpret constructive action as merely a negative state of harmlessness.
On the contrary, while constructive action in its purest form attempts to treat even the evil-doer with honesty and grace, it will by no means assist the evil-doer in doing wrong. Nor will it tolerate wrong-doing in any way.
Constructive action requires that we resist what is wrong and disassociate ourselves from it even if doing so antagonizes the wrong-doer.
Constructive action is the essential first principle upon which all other principles, values, and purposes depend. Its’ underlying premise is pragmatic. It allows communication and problem-solving even in the most difficult circumstances.
There is a close relationship between the positive spirit of respect and trustworthiness that characterizes constructive action and the moral integrity of the civil society we wish to build. The two are inseparable as means and ends.
Constructive action is the means. Unity of purpose grounded in moral integrity is the end.
Western political thinking has always considered means to be either an abstraction of tactics or simply the character of social and political machinery. In both cases means are considered only in their service to the goals of political interests.
Here we have a very different understanding of means, replacing end-serving goals with an end-creating purpose.
Such an approach to our methods is necessary if we seek to apply traditional American values to rapidly changing circumstances. Thus my call for the active engagement of all Americans in this endeavor, despite our vast diversity.
A vital and prosperous future can only be reached by capitalizing on our differences – in knowledge, skills, perspectives.
And, the better our working relationships, the better our chances for influencing one another – to attract, inspire, and understand.
Again, we have clear choices to make.
Either we choose to respect the Constitution and recover the fundamental meaning of the American Idea, or we can walk away forever from the safety, stability, and integrity of a future we can trust and believe in.
Please look for the next post on or about May 31.