Reducing Rancor in Our Polarized Society: The Power of One

SEABROOKS SAYS: You, like I, spend very little time pondering the subject of polarization.  Jesse Caldwell does and you should know what he thinks.  Try adjusting your life by applying his three power=packed points.  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

The increasing level of open hostility and venomous attacks among people concerning political and social issues should have us all alarmed. The long respected American tradition of “ agreeing to disagree” seems to have been eclipsed with a “Reality TV” “Jerry Springer Show” aggressive display of name calling, personal attacks, and “one upped” insults. Fanatics on both the left and the right demonize people with whom they disagree. If not curtailed, this may be the greatest threat to our American way of life that we face. Truly, a house divided against itself cannot stand.

Certainly we should all exercise our First Amendment Rights to Free Speech, and should never hesitate to hold our public officials accountable for their actions. But we should do this in a respectful way that does not intensify the decibel level of public discourse. Moreover, I believe that there are things we can all do as individuals to reduce the level of rancor in our polarized society.

  1. FIRST, LET US ALL MONITOR OUR TONE AND ATTITUDE

Courtesy, civility and a respect for everyone’s worth and therefore opinion can do wonders. As a young man, George Washington compiled a list of 110 “Rules of Civility”, which were the attitudes and values that helped shape his leadership. By setting the right tone, attitude and atmosphere in his Cabinet, this allowed our country to reap the best that men of opposite political beliefs, like Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, had to offer.

I love what my childhood friend from Victory School, Kandy Bradley Puckett, recently posted on Facebook:

While much of America seems to be getting more and more divisive, I’m going to
Be holding doors for strangers, letting people cut in front of me in traffic, greeting all that
I meet, calling people, “Sir” and “Ma’am, exercising patience with others, and smiling
at strangers. I’ll do this as often as I have the opportunity. I will not stand idly by and
let children live a world where unconditional love is invisible and being rude is acceptable.

2. SECONDLY, LET US TRY TO KEEP AN OPEN MIND ON ALL ISSUES

We all have our own beliefs and opinions. But none of us is perfect, and none of us can be right all the time. On most issues, those on opposing sides are people of good will, seeking to find an honest solution to a problem. May we listen to the views of others and seek to find “common ground” if it can be done without comprising our principles. “Tip and the Gipper” is a wonderful book that explores how Republican President Ronald Regan and Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill were able to work together on certain issues, despite being on polar opposite ends of the political spectrum, because they were willing to keep an open mind. Similarly, conservative Senator Orrin Hatch and liberal Senator Edward Kennedy, often at political odds with each other, were able to collaborate and co-sponsor many bi-partisan bills that became law, because they viewed what each proposed with an open mind.

3. THIRD, LET US SEEK CREATIVE WAYS TO REACH OUT TO OTHERS WITH WHOM WE HAVE POLITICAL OR PHILOSOPHICAL DIFFERENCES

Much of the animosity between different factions on issues stems from the fact that most of us do not understand the backdrop of those who disagree with us. If we were all to see creative ways to reach out to others with whom we have political or philosophical differences, and try to get to know them as people, I submit we would lessen the virulence in our society. It is hard to dislike someone who disagrees with you when they know and ask you about your children.

We can begin by sending a greeting card to someone of a different political party, persuasion, or race. We can move beyond that by asking them to lunch. We can turn unlikely and potentially negative situations into positive opportunities for good.

In 1983, Senator Edward Kennedy opened a mass mailed letter from Moral Majority Leader Rev. Jerry Falwell, which urged the recipients to “unite and defeat ultraliberals like Ted Kennedy”. Instead of becoming angry, Kennedy was amused and reached out to Falwell. This led to an invitation for Kennedy to speak at Liberty University, family dinners in each other’s homes, and a surprising but enjoyable friendship. Rev. Falwell prayed with Sen. Kennedy’s ill mother, and Kennedy wrote a glowing letter of recommendation for Falwell’s son for law school. If they can do this, why can’t we?

In conclusion, we can all help reduce the level of rancor in our land my monitoring our tone and attitude, keeping an open mind about current issues, and seeking creative ways to get to know someone who believes differently from us.

Let us not underestimate the “Power of One”. In the words of Edward Everett Hale:

I am only one, but I am one.
I cannot do everything, but I can do something.
What I can do I ought to do, and what I ought to do, by the grace of God, I will do.

Jesse B. Caldwell, III
Senior Resident Superior Court Judge
Judicial District 27A

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