Returning home after a week at the beach often requires a few days of readjustment, and this year proved no different. As soon as we turned into our driveway, I felt sluggish, irritable, and overwhelmed. Perhaps it was the long drive, the missing of family, or just the heavy air of another Tennessee summer. The next morning, I suggested a hike in hopes that it would boost me out of my post vacation blues. The hike seemed to do the trick. So after a quiet breakfast, I felt ready to break my vacation news fast. I began by reading a column by Saritha Prabhu a regular contributor to The Tennessean. I have always enjoyed her insights and unique perspective…a sort of looking out and looking in at our country and culture. Yet, I was saddened by the title of her column, “Feeling pessimistic ahead of the Fourth.” Her first words concerned me…
When I was first new to America, some of the things I liked and learned from were the very American traits of optimism and can-doism. No matter how bad it gets, Americans used to believe that better days are ahead, that we can work toward it. Do we still believe that? I’m not so sure.
I wondered…have we slumped so low and become so divisive that even those who have chosen to come to this country are now despondent? Ms. Prabhu blames “the weapons grade partisanship” as the chief contributor to our current state. She is not alone.
David Brooks, a conservative columnist recently wrote “Political Prejudice is Pervasive.” In the article, he notes that while we have become more accepting of different lifestyles, we have become far more judgmental and often intolerant of different political views. He notes the following unsettling statistic.
In 1960, roughly 5 percent of Republicans and Democrats said they'd be "displeased" if their child married someone from the other party. By 2010, 49 percent of Republicans and 33 percent of Democrats said they would mind.
Brooks goes on to say…
Politics is a passionate activity, in which moral values clash. Debates over Obamacare, charter schools or whether the U.S. should intervene in Syria stir serious disagreement. But these studies are measuring something different. People's worth is being measured by a political label: whether they should be hired, married, trusted or discriminated against.
Are we doomed as Prabhu contends to live out our lives in “our own political silos, each with its own alternative facts, scenarios and realities”? I do not want to summarily disengage from friends, family members, or even strangers who might have a different opinion than I do about politics. Yet, how do we get past our different opinions and viewpoints without demonizing those who see things differently? Perhaps one way might be to look for hope this Fourth of July instead of pessimism. So in preparation for the holiday, I decided to purposefully look for signs of hope in our country. Here is what I noticed…
On Monday June 26th, Senator Cory Booker and Representative John Lewis began a quiet “sit-out” on the steps of the Capitol to protest the Senate’s BCRA bill. It was a small start just the two of them…but eventually a crowd grew to more than 100 people as other representatives and bystanders joined them. Folks asked questions and there was some give and take. I saw hope in this peaceful protest because it is our Constitutional right to gather and disagree. In Russia, China, or North Korea, these legislators and participants would have been arrested.
On the same evening, my own church gathered a room full of parishioners wanting to learn how the BCRA would affect their families and others in our community. Personal stories were shared about disabled children, a daughter with cystic fibrosis, and concerns for the working poor should the caps and cuts come into play. We each put pen to paper and wrote our Senators about our concerns. I found hope in the energy that filled the room knowing full well that the right to express an opinion is not available to everyone.
The next day, I received an email from Senator Corker in response to my concerns about the recent sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the effect it would have on innocent civilians in Yemen. Senator Corker did not send a canned reply but a thoughtful response that addressed my concerns and encouraged me to stay in touch. I felt heard and hopeful that indeed my opinion mattered in our democracy.
Finally, it was a piece about Better Angels that gave me the most hope. Better Angels is “a bipartisan network of leaders and organizations whose vision is to reunite America.” Better Angels recently sponsored a meeting in Waynesville Ohio between 15 residents…seven representing a conservative or Republican point of view and eight representing a more liberal or Democratic point of view. I found much hope in the summation of their time together…
In this meeting, we did not change our views on issues. But we did change our views of each other. And surely, in this time of extreme public rancor and mistrust, this change is a good thing for us and for the land we all love.
I am fully aware that many may not find hope in the same events as I did. However, I still contend it is worthwhile for each of us to look for signs of hope in our own little corners of the country. It is far too easy to fall into pessimism as we are bombarded with incendiary headlines on a daily basis. It takes a concerted effort to find truth and hope, but it can be found.
In fact, hope is found throughout our nation’s history. It was hope that brought those brave men to Philadelphia in 1776. Surely, it gave them the courage to sign that audacious document in July. Hope was also written into our Constitution and embedded in our forefather’s desire for a “perfect union.” Even Abraham Lincoln found hope during the most violent and divisive period of our history.
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 mystic chords of memory . . .will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.— Abraham Lincoln, 1861
It is important to remember that hope is forward looking. If we give into pessimism, we dim the lights for future generations and deny them a future that is solvent, just, and sustainable. So on this Fourth of July, may we all find hope in what is but also look beyond the short trajectory of our own lives. Maybe then we will find the “better angels” in ourselves and others.
Happy Fourth of July! ~c.h.