America at a Tipping Point

To speak of rebuilding the foundations of the American Republic is certainly not to suggest deficiencies in the Constitution.  On the contrary, the founders created a structural bulwark for stability that must be defended vigorously.

The foundation that concerns us today is built with the integrity the Constitution requires of us: The responsibility, trustworthiness, and cooperation that transcends differences among citizens.

A reader commented 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 the details to recognize the truth in this view.  And, we cannot wait for somebody else to fix it.  It is time to stop complaining and join with those around us to secure the safety and well-being of our local communities.

Changing our attitude about this does not mean changing our opinions or compromising our principles.  Not at all!  To address people with dignity and kindliness will win their respect and loyalty.  Harsh and derogatory words will estrange and alienate.

If we wish to be heard – to share our views and represent our principles – we need to work with others in a way that makes this possible.  Communication will not be easy until we are ready to work shoulder-to-shoulder, to meet the needs we have in common and make things right.

No, this will not be easy. Many of us have serious differences. But addressing shared problems is the way mutual respect begins and interest in listening 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 with our 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 make our communities safe and 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 for it.  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 effort begins with the courage to be patient and accept differences. Let us not deny ourselves the maturity of forbearance and kindliness.

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.”

Building dependable relationships with our neighbors requires grit and determination. We will win a few and lose a few, but the ones we win will move the nation forward – and might save lives.

The loss of trust has accompanied the loss of civil order and security in this country.  Solutions to these most serious and fundamental problems begin on the path back to trust.

Trustworthiness is the foundation of security.  Without trust America faces existential danger.  And, without forbearance and cooperation no trust – or progress – will be possible.

Tom

Please look for the next post on or about August 12: Finding our balance in the storm.

Freedom and Stability

When the first European settlers came to North America and dispersed into the forests and across the open plains, they had only their own initiative, ingenuity, and self-reliance to depend upon.

No one was there to counsel them about the requirements for survival.  Freedom and responsibility were defined by harsh realities.

Intrepid settlers also relied on one another as neighbors, so long as each took responsibility for themselves.  Self-reliance and the acceptance of personal responsibility are sources of self-respect and lead to mutual respect among neighbors.  Whining and complaint don’t fly, however tough the circumstances.

I believe we will soon find ourselves coming full circle to a time when some of the requirements of frontier life may become necessary once again.

The physical circumstances are different and our independence as self-sufficient individuals is generally gone, but the challenges will increasingly resemble those of an earlier time when we were forced to stand on our own feet, depending on inventiveness, cooperation, and reliability.

In the early years of European settlement, American frontier life required little organization other than that prescribed by the traditions of English common law, and common decency.  But, as populations became more concentrated, it was not long before undisciplined enthusiasm and competitiveness roiled civil order.

Thinking people soon found themselves responding to growing contentiousness – and the dangers of majority rule, which threatened to suppress individual initiative and minority liberties.

Democracy was a new idea 200 years ago.  The Constitutional Convention of 1787 struggled with concerns about the growing intensity of divisiveness in the civil order, and recognition that the future Republic would see changes and stresses that were hard to imagine.

Libertarian sentiments were strong among Americans in the 18th century.  There was a natural fear of the social and political oppressiveness colonists had so recently fled from in their European past.  Many had strong feelings about protecting the freedom they experienced in their daily lives.

Despite deep personal sympathies with this viewpoint, the Founders recognized that majority factions had no compunctions against suppressing the interests or rejecting the needs of anyone who differed with them.  Given a perspective inherited from European history it was easy to imagine a violent and tumultuous future.

The Constitution of the United States is the product of this tension and a determination to create a dynamic framework capable of protecting freedoms and yet absorbing the forces of conflict and change that would surely come.

The Constitution is a legal document, not a guide to rational behavior.  It is designed to provide the stability upon which liberty depends, a structure for governance and a set of practical rules.

It does not supply the values and attitudes, or the crucial necessity for cooperation among equals, upon which its’ effectiveness must depend.

The forthcoming book, on which this blog is based, is largely devoted to this challenge.  Before addressing the future, however, let us first place our current challenges in historical context, and consider the foundational principles and visionary institutions Americans already possess.

How do we understand our role in allowing the Constitution to function according to its’ design and purpose?

How do we understand the true meaning of freedom, and what are the practical constraints required by freedom if it is to survive in an orderly, civilized context?

How did the delegates at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 formulate a structure for governance that would preserve a balance between freedom and stability?  How did they endeavor to encourage a role for civic responsibility that it might prevail into a future they could only barely imagine?

Structural stability is written into the formation of the Republic.  The rest depends on us.  Instability begins with a lack of foresight and an inability to compromise.  Solutions will only be found through moral responsibility, emotional restraint, and cooperative problem-solving.

We stand today at an extraordinary turning point.  Let’s not throw away our inheritance and attempt to start over from nothing.

Tom

Next on the Blog!  The United States Constitution depends on mutual respect and a strong sense of moral and social responsibility, a careful balance that requires commitment to citizenship and readiness to compromise.  Please watch for the next post on or about Friday, October 14.