We are a divided nation. But that is not unusual.
The recent election did not create the divisions; it just made them more evident. Neither division itself nor the differences among us are really our problem, because beneath and beyond all of our differences there are some things that unite us as Americans and as human beings. Or at least, there are some basic values that ought to unite us. I am not talking about what makes America great, but about what makes America work.
Democracy has been called the worst form of government, except for all the other forms of government. It is messy and it is certainly not the most efficient or predictable system. Yet democracy has the potential to be the most just and equitable way to organize a nation. Like peace, democracy is fragile. So is the public trust that holds it together. When we judge people with whom we disagree — our fellow Americans — as “evil” or “uncaring” we have the makings of a house divided that cannot stand.
Not Right Versus Left – Right Versus Wrong
As citizens, our loyalty must lie in something larger than whether we are red or blue or if we are Black or white. When it comes to doing the right thing for our collective wellbeing, as the Rev. William Barber II likes to say, “It is not about right versus left; it is about right versus wrong.” There is something wrong with characterizing people who disagree with us politically as evil or as enemies.
In a democracy, it is expected that we will have different political preferences and prefer different policy proposals. But as a nation, and as human beings, we need to be of one accord about a few things. In a pluralistic society like ours, with people from every nation and religion, we will always have differences. Can you imagine over 300 million people agreeing on everything?
But there is one thing we must agree on: The belief in the inherent worth of every person and as a consequence of that belief, in the general decency of our fellow citizens. Of course, there will always be some people who intend to do harm and pursue only their own interests. However, most people would like to leave the world and our country better than they found it.
After a contentious election, with threats of violence still out there, it is a good time to look beyond the headlines and the polarizing rhetoric to consider what it is we can all agree on. Finding common ground will be lifesaving in a time when over 1,000 people a day are dying and over 100,000 a day are being infected by a virus in this country. Here in Oklahoma, we are definitely in a red zone. In other words, we are currently one of the epicenters of this pandemic.
We Are All Bound Together
The quality of our collective lives will be benefited greatly by those among us who will respectfully step beyond their own family, tribe, party and identity-groups to seek to understand those who are different from themselves. The starting point must be the awareness that we are all bound together and the person in front of me is a fellow human being who wants many of the same things I want for myself and my family. Understanding this is how we can find common ground.
In this way, even those of us who disagree about whether to build a wall at the southern border or whether or not to impose stricter COVID-19 protocols can agree not to build impenetrable walls between us. A nation divided can certainly stand, as long as we are not divided about the wrong things.
This article originally appeared as a Letter to the Editor of the Tulsa World.
Rev. Dr. Marlin Lavanhar is the Senior Minister of All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He will celebrate 20 years at All Souls during the church’s Centennial in 2021. Follow Marlin’s cartooning on Instagram, @MarlinLavanharCartoons. You can read more of his blogs on beyondbelief.online; All Souls exclusive blog sharing stories of our free faith, curated from the heartland.