Today is the Fourth of July, Independence Day, 2017. It’s comes at a time when our nation is perhaps as divided as it has ever been. As I think about some of the reasons, one word keeps occurring to me: Perspective.
Perspective governs how you see that band of men who raided ships in the Boston Harbor in 1773. If you were an English merchant who had followed the rules and invested money, you’d say that group was a bunch of thieves and vandals. To others, they were courageous, wily freedom fighters who took action against “The Man.”
And today, we have a whole political movement named after the Boston Tea Party.
We talk about the leadership of George Washington, and laud him as the father of our country. But to others all they can see is a slave-owner, a dealer in human beings.
To some, Robert E. Lee was an honorable man who was loyal to family and tradition, who put aside his personal desires to answer the call to lead the Confederate army. His post-Civil War life, and presidency of Washington and Lee, seem to suggest honor. But to others, he was a treasonous slave-owner, who led an armed rebellion against the nation and all statues of him should be torn down and removed from places of honor.
This list can go on and on: the Rockefeller and Carnegie names are today associated with great philanthropy and civic advancement. But their fortunes were built on sometimes unscrupulous business practices, on the backs — and in come cases the bodies — of others. (See Ludlow Massacre and Homestead Strike.) Other great industrialists of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries — robber barons like Morgan, Vanderbilt, Duke, Frick, Mellon — are in the same boat
Some people look at a homeless person on the street, and see someone who’s lazy, probably drunk or on some other drug and think to themselves — “Why don’t they straighten up!?”
Others see that same person, and think, “Who knows what series of tragedies led to that situation — health, mental state, personal misfortunes, economics? There but for the grace of God go I.”
Perhaps our problem as a nation is that we’ve lost perspective. The only vision we can have is our own. And we can’t even acknowledge that much because our vision is the “right” one, and we are championing the right cause.
Any other way of looking at it — whatever “it” is, we label as idiotic, misguided, uneducated, racist, redneck, fascist, homophobic, mysogonistic, weak, bleeding heart, spineless, gullible, lies, threatening, dangerous, unsympathetic, know-nothingness, treason, whiney, failed — the list goes on.
I acknowledge that nothing riles me as much as my perception that the “other side” does not respect or give me credit for any legitimacy, that does not recognize the perspective I come from. I can get pretty nasty and sarcastic when I get that notion. (See my Twitter feed, especially when it comes to college athletics — and @VP or @realdonaldtrump.)
Until both sides — and I’m including myself in this — begin to accept that the “other” might, just might, have a point or at least understand the thought process that goes into a position, we will get nowhere.
(As an aside here, I am going to try to refrain from demonizing the other. As easy at is to snipe and mock, and as satisfying as it might be personally, I recognize that it does no good, does not persuade anyone to change their point of view and only contributes to an atmosphere of hate and distrust. I also know that this will be hard for me to keep to because so much venom is flying in both directions.)
I am not suggesting that we abandon principles, but really that we follow a principle found in virtually all religions, the one Christians know as the Golden Rule.
Now I recognize that I am coming at this from a liberal point of view — and that liberals tend to be more willing to entertain different concepts. (I’m not being smug or superior here; it’s virtually the definition of liberal.)
But our nation was built on compromise. All of our important historical documents exist because of compromise. But to compromise, one must listen and grant the other a modicum of goodwill.
Isaiah 1:18 says “Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord.” (New Revised Standard Version; some translations have it as “Come let us reason together.”)
Reasoning together, even arguing it out, leads to two or more sides — perspectives — that become melded into one.
Unless, and until, all of us remember this, our nation will be at peril.