Due to the growing stridency, distance, extremism, and animosity between right/conservative/Republican (“red”) and left/liberal/Democrat (“blue”) proponents, the center (“purple”) is a harmonious location increasingly unshared in America. To describe the red’s fixed position, I borrow authors Alexander Betts and Paul Collier phrase “heartless head”; and to describe the blue’s I borrow their phrase “headless heart”. Journalist James Traub seems to advocate synthesizing these otherwise incompatible mindsets when he suggests reasoning with our hearts and feeling with our heads. The pure tone of the truth is the center, and it’s the only credible place for us, as a bifurcated society, to engage. It’s the magnetic pole that we should endeavor to be drawn toward.
The proliferation of exclusions to and opposition to free speech (e.g. college campus protests) exacerbates our collective loss of opportunities for civil social discourse and reduces our ability to learn to understand the other side and thus to merge factions. I’m modestly suggesting, rather than over-reaching for general agreement, that each of us simply recognize the problem (i.e. a lack of congenial discourse) and then do our best to rise above it by avoiding the excesses and the caricatures all-too-frequently promoted by those who are morally-failed dividers or just plain noisy advocates of our side. All publically espoused positions come with both blemishes and beauties that need to be carefully and creatively sorted like the wheat and the weeds, the sheep and the goats.
Let’s invest the individual time to seek the truth as we also adhere to this five centuries-old advice: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity” (translated from the Latin original of an unknown source). No matter how much or how many of our predilections have to be shed to get there, the cost of doing so is incontestably worthwhile for crafting the healthy environment so needed by our individual souls and the larger community spirit.
Historically, we Americans have faced not dissimilar deep ideological national chasms during and after the Revolutionary War, Civil War and Vietnam War; each respectively occurring slightly post mid-century (1760s-70s, 1860s-70s and 1960s-forward). The signing of treaties and the cessation of fighting after the Civil War did not come close to automatically healing hearts and uniting minds. A national rapprochement was called for by inspirational leaders like Lincoln, Douglass, and Grant. Arguably, today’s bifurcation of the population began with the liberal-conservative split during the Vietnam years and has continued to widen and remain with us since. Another cry for rapprochement should be clarion today, and it can only effectively come from those among us, especially those in leadership, who determine to rise above the common us and me petty politics with its attendant name-calling, contempt, and selfishness. Lincoln’s plea is still in season: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.” The failure to attain national discourse leads to continuing escalations, and most any escalation – as we have already seen – leads to outbreaks of violence of a Brown Shirt and Antifa nature. Who among us is not already familiar with Jesus’ warning that a house divided will not stand? If we believe it, our actions should reflect it.
Healing change comes one heart at a time starting with our own (see “frown power” in the Stetson Kennedy story). “Uncommon Character” presents two dozen individuals – from a variety of locations, vocations, and ages – who have successfully modeled selfless commitment and altruistic behavior for our collective follow-up. Good character knows no political affiliation or religious denomination. It rises above roadblocks like political correctness and name-calling. It is not driven by politics or economics. It comes from having relationships in harmony. This not to say that our American way of life does not have real enemies whom we must resist in lieu of them subverting us. We do have them, many of them. But, we must be able to identify our true life-and-death adversaries from our fellow travelers, with whom we could productively compromise and turn into allies for two and three-fold strength in the real battles.