America at a Tipping Point

To speak of rebuilding the foundations of the Republic is not to suggest deficiencies in the structure and process of governance provided by the Constitution.  On the contrary, the founders created a structural bulwark for stability that must be defended vigorously whenever necessary.

The foundation many of us are concerned about is that of integrity: Justice, trust, responsibility, and a mutual respect that transcends differences among citizens.

A reader commented on this blog’s Facebook page last week that, “America is at a tipping point because every tenet [and] moral fiber of this nation has been diminished, so that no one is held accountable.  [There is] no moral compass because the foundations are removed.”

We do not have to agree on all the details to recognize truth in this view.  And, we cannot wait for somebody else to fix it.  It is time to stop complaining and to step forward to engage with those around us in securing the safety and well-being of our communities.

Changing our attitude does not require changing opinions or compromising principles.  Addressing people and problems with dignity and kindliness will win respect, not harsh or derogatory words.

If we wish to be heard, to share our views and represent our principles, we must do what is necessary to make this possible.  Communication and understanding will not be easy until we are cooperating shoulder-to-shoulder with our neighbors to make things right.

No, it will not be easy.  But this is how mutual respect begins and the ability to listen becomes genuine.

We will talk more about this later, but the important thing to recognize is that when the going gets tough, relationships count.  I don’t just mean next door neighbors, as important as they are.  If we find ourselves under threat, directly or indirectly, the last thing we need is neighbors down the road or over the hill who are an unknown quantity.

And, we are not simply talking about making acquaintances here.  This is not about borrowing a cup of sugar over the back fence.  To create safe communities – to rebuild the nation – we need dependability.  And that means trust.

Yes, well, in the midst of this crisis we find that trust is not something that Americans know much about.  Mostly we do not believe in it any more.  This is a big problem.

We cannot simply start trusting people because we wish to be trusting.  The reality we live in is decidedly untrustworthy.  Most of the people around us do not have a clear concept of what trust means, much less an understanding of why it is important or what to do about it.

Change will take time.  The challenge begins with our willingness to take initiative, to be patient, to accept differences, and, most of all, to listen to others with interested curiosity.  If we wish to be heard it is usually necessary to first convince others that we are actually hearing them.  Only then will we be heard.

In his book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People“, Stephen Covey wrote:

“If you’re like most people, you probably seek first to be understood; you want to get your point across. And in doing so, you may ignore the other person completely, pretend that you’re listening, selectively hear only certain parts of the conversation or attentively focus on only the words being said, but miss the meaning entirely. So why does this happen? Because most people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand.”

We can all see that the loss of trust has accompanied the loss of civil order and security in this country.  We know there are serious structural problems that must be addressed, but I hope we can also see why trust will serve a vital role in recovering stability and prosperity.

Learning how to build trust will come in the context of practical experience – teaming up to work closely with one another, resolving practical problems and meeting needs in our communities.

Without trust the American republic faces existential danger.  And, without personal cooperation and understanding no trust is possible and no progress is attainable.


Next week: Finding our balance in the storm

Dear readers, I would appreciate your feedback: ideas, viewpoints, and observations.  Expansive reader engagement on the Facebook page has been quite helpful.

Living with Integrity

I have suggested here that liberty is closely related to justice, and that both depend upon moral responsibility.  How can we think about these things, and find integrity in them and through them?

By responsibility I mean active engagement with the people and institutions around us as interested and caring citizens.  Responsibility gives meaning and order to our lives.  It is a partner to liberty, which cannot exist without it.

I refer to moral responsibility more specifically as our ability to respond on the basis of conscience, using personal judgment regarding what is right and wrong in human behavior, and acting with respect for the dignity of those we encounter.

A friend once pointed out to me that the meaning of “responsibility” might be found in the compound word, “response-ability.”  Without this ability, justice cannot be realized and liberty has no purpose.

We heard from Viktor Frankl several weeks ago in a post entitled: “The Resilience of Inner Freedom.”  Dr. Frankl emerged from his World War II ordeal in a Nazi death camp with the firm conviction that freedom can only be secured through responsibility.

Freedom,” he wrote, “is not the last word.  Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth.  Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness.  In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness.”

For many of us, seeking freedom in our lives is a gradual process of maturing, letting go of dependencies, and trying to make a go at life with what resources we can gather or create.

This is meaningful for a time.  However, we soon begin to realize that the society in which we live, and the material limitations in our lives, impose themselves on us in uncomfortable ways.

Do we then give in to anger – or feeling sorry for ourselves?  Or, do we seek dignity in the face of limitation, asserting control over our personal vices, and engaging constructively in our community and the wider world beyond?

Many of us find it necessary to construct the lives we wish for from the wreckage of past mistakes, our own and those of others, and are grateful simply for the opportunity to do so.  Even cleaning up a mess offers a certain satisfaction.

There is no happiness to be found in complaining.  Self-respect cannot wait for things to change.  We are each capable of responding to the world around us with dignity and creativity.

Contributing to problem-solving in collaboration with others is a choice that can bring great gratification, however difficult the challenges.

Accepting responsibility can mean many things depending on our circumstances.  Usually we think of responsibility as the act of responding to what needs to be done.  I suggest, however, that a core responsibility underlying all others is the imperative to build and ensure trust.

Without trust, the fabric of this nation will continue to disintegrate.  Trust is the substance of integrity and the single most essential factor making it possible for us to build the future.

Can we find ways of thinking and being that are consistent with the foundation of justice we have considered in recent posts?  The integrity of such a framework supports our endeavors in the same way that a sound physical foundation is required to construct a building.

A principled integrity gains primacy in our very identity: our character and way of being.  But, it can easily be squandered in a moment of carelessness.

So, there you have it: Integrity is the quality of being; trustworthiness is the substance of that quality; and, responsibility is the action with which we make it so.  And, finally, justice is the beginning and the end, the matrix that holds it all together.

Responsibility follows immediately from integrity and is the expression of it.  Stability and order depend on this.  When responsibility is understood and applied to the challenges we face, progress is possible.  Otherwise the integrity of intention is lost.

There is no middle ground.  Either integrity and responsibility are wholly present or they are compromised.  Without them no civilization is possible.


Next week:  On dependability and trust

A note to regular readers:  I wish to express my gratitude for the interest and constructive feedback you have shared on the Facebook page.  I could not reasonably proceed without this.  Those of you who have taken the step of clicking “Follow” on this site are also serving a significant role.  When it comes time to publish, the numbers really can make a difference.

To See for Ourselves

We each have the ability to see, to evaluate and understand things for ourselves.  Yet, all too often we allow the judgments and agendas of others to take us in.  Sometimes we allow ourselves to be manipulated, accepting what is said without investigation – because something supports our preconceived assumptions.

The dishonesty and deceit of partisan politics runs rampant.  Mass media is particularly insidious, creating various alternative realities and imposing them on us in an incoherent stream of disconnected images and sound bites.  Social media is worse.

We can never fully comprehend the reality in which we live, physically or spiritually.  But, we can see that the world survives repeated cataclysms, ever recovering its balance and somehow progressing despite the delusions, duplicity, and chicanery of human beings.

In the previous post I proposed a way of seeing and understanding the world on the basis of justice.  I wrote of a dependable, self-sustaining framework or foundation underlying the whole of reality, which has the character of justice.

We would do well to align ourselves with this basis, to unite with its’ standards and observe its’ conditions as best we can.

Religious people may recognize this truth as the function of God’s Grace.  Others might see it as a function of the integrity of the natural order in the universe.  I believe both are true.

A balanced and coherent unity can be recognized in both the human and natural worlds, when they are freed from manipulation.  The elegant balance found in nature will, if left alone, always manage itself with a delicate, yet robust and resilient functionality.

Human society has a similarly purposeful balance.  But, this is often distorted by insistent efforts to control things according to our selfish desires, rather than with any sense of the right order of things.

Religion has taught us of the integrity and interdependence of the relationships that form the fabric of human communities.  Science has shown us that the earth’s biosphere is a delicate web of life organized as an integrated network of networks.

Whether in human affairs or in the natural world, any disruption or injury inflicted upon the balance will incur consequences that may not be immediately apparent.  Yet the repercussions of injury and injustice spread rapidly abroad, as each impact leads to others in widening circles that extend themselves in perpetuity.

Why is this important to our understanding of freedom?  Understanding the fundamental form and function of things allows us to see things for ourselves without undue influence from others.

While dialog with a trusted friend or genuine consultation within a group can be important safeguards, the personal ability to recognize the consequences of events for ourselves, “to see the end in the beginning,” allows us to determine our own course of action without responding to pressure.

And, understanding the far-flung aftereffects of our own deeds provides us with a degree of protection from engaging in overly emotional, ill-conceived, or destructive acts.

A cursory review of human history reveals numerous examples of poorly conceived actions followed by disastrous consequences.  As we have all seen, both individuals and groups are quite capable of seriously misguided error.

How does this happen?  Well, sometimes we think we have everything all figured out when, in fact, our information is limited and we are only aware of a part of the “truth.”

It is essential that we include a diversity of experience and perspective in our consultations with others.  And, we must always step back periodically to find the mental space to think objectively for ourselves.

Remaining mindful of the foundation of justice that is given, and always checking and rechecking our own motives, will pay ever greater dividends in constructive outcomes and the avoidance of unnecessary trouble.

Justice is a gift that will not go away.  To ignore or repudiate it is fruitless.

However destructive the consequences of unjust acts may be, justice remains integral to the substance of reality, unperturbed and uncompromised.  It remains with us at all times, however discouraged or confused we might feel.

We can count on this, even in the darkest night.


Next week: Liberty with integrity

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