Are you as frustrated with politics as I am? As a nation, we’re more divided and mistrustful of each other than I’ve ever seen in my adult lifetime.
I’m going to go ahead and say it: I want to fall back in love with my country.
I confess I’m a sentimentalist about America. My eyes tear up when I think about immigrants on the bow of a ship seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time. My heart beats faster when I see photos of suffragettes picketing for the women’s right to vote. I weep when I watch videos of civil rights marchers crossing the bridge outside of Selma.
For me, those iconic images represent the American dream in progress. They’re proof that while America has never been perfect, we do (eventually) move forward. The people in those photos are my heroes.
Yet now, as I look at those images, I realize, my lens was only focusing on half the story. While I was idolizing the courageous, I should have been paying more attention to the people trying to beat them back. The freedoms many of us now take for granted were violently opposed by large numbers of people. This opposition was not outside our country; it came from within it. The drumbeat of progress has faced resistance at every turn. The current climate, while depressingly divisive, is emblematic of the constant human struggle to bring forth the better angels of our nature.
Albert Einstein famously said, “Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.”
Our current discourse begs the question: Is this really our best thinking?
I don’t believe it is. A steady diet of “We’re right! They’re wrong!” has ignited America’s collective lizard brain. Our public discourse has been hijacked, and our national thinking is regressing instead of advancing.
When leaders feed our lizard brain, aspirational thinking stops. We descend into either/or mindset, and disagreement has turned into disdain. This us vs. them tribal mentality widens the gap between us, and sets us up for failure over the long haul. This is not the way a nation moves forward. You don’t have to read many history books to know, a country that turns on itself is destined to fail.
So how do we reclaim the better angels of our nature? The first step is to remember that we actually have better angels. I know we do, I’ve seen them. The second step is putting our better nature into the service of something bigger than ourselves. The third, and most challenging piece, is to consider the possibility our fellow citizens have a few better angels themselves.
I confess, my belief in America has been shaken, as has my confidence in our collective soul. Yet, as frustrated as I am with the current dialogue, I find myself asking, what have I as a citizen done to improve it?
If I’m honest with myself, the answer is, not nearly as much as I could have. I find myself reflecting upon JFK’s words, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
Perhaps instead of hoping my country will do something to help me fall back in love with her, it’s time for me to do something for her. Progress will always face resistance, the question is how hard are we willing to work?