“It was the best of all times, it was the worst of all times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
Charles Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities)
Here we are, Independence Day, 2017, and we more closely resemble the opening lines of Dickens' novel than we do America the Beautiful. A Tale of Two Cities, one of the best works of literature ever written, was set in the latter part of the 17th century during the French Revolution. It was a time of discontent; fatigue from ten long years of war, and loss of faith in the government to make changes that would benefit the folks on the bottom. People were hungry and no one seemed to care. Sound familiar?
I woke at three this morning thinking about this—how is it we've come to this time of utter incivility; what got us here? I wish I had the answers, but I don't. Some observations, however, I can supply. Somewhere along the way, we ripped off the thin veneer of civil interaction that, even if not always authentic, was at least a deterrent to disorder. That didn't apply to every one, of course; African Americans can testify that it didn't apply to them. But most people, black and white, had a community they were committed to, and even if you didn't especially like someone in your family or community, you governed your tongue.
I'm not sure when we lost that, but gradually, it has eroded to the point that we now say whatever we think, and let the chips fall where they may. And in a time of malcontent, the things we say can be pretty obnoxious. I think the myth of American exceptionalism is vanishing before our eyes. Perhaps it was always a hoax, but my guess is that the the rest of the world simply caught up while we were busy admiring ourselves in the mirror. The fact that we have elected as President someone who randomly and egregiously attacks individual people, our institutions, our allies, and the free press is a symptom, and not the disease itself. He is, unfortunately, a reflection of us.
It feels as though our identified communities have also shifted. They have moved out of our religious institutions, schools and neighborhoods, and into quasi-gangs of like-minded and belligerent protest camps. In other words, we're bonding around ideologies that separate us rather than seeking out solutions for our common good. If we want to solve our problems, we must first change the way we talk and listen to one another. Instead of focusing on what I want—my way or the highway—we must focus on how we can come to some middle ground where everyone gets some of what they want and need. Let us, on this Independence Day, make civility a priority. Let's dedicate ourselves to the things we brag about when it comes to this country. And then, let's roll up our sleeves and get to work making it true for everyone.
In the Spirit,