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Why can’t we all just get along? Well, for starters...

March 8, 2012

Recently, I visited the Sunday worship service of the Upper Delaware Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, which meets in Beach Lake, PA. (In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that the minister of that congregation is also the publisher of this newspaper.) I was there to watch two of my favorite human beings, Mort Malkin and Christine San Jose, present a brief discussion they titled, “Can These Dis-United States Ever Find Common Ground?”—or, as I jokingly suggested they subtitle the program, “How Much Longer Can We Keep From Shooting Each Other?”

Christine and Mort started with a concise but thorough overview of liberal and conservative agendas, and the many areas where those groups disagree, from military policy to healthcare to social issues. They then searched for underlying values behind those apparent conflicts where the two groups might find some commonality—such as the importance of personal responsibility. Mort pinpointed several issues, including the welfare of children, as places where liberals and conservatives might be able set aside ideological differences and actually accomplish good things. He also noted that, contrary to the idea of Americans always being at loggerheads, there is a strong thread of cooperation running throughout American history and culture, from barn-raisings and town meetings to worker-owned cooperative enterprises. Christine finished up by stressing, in a very eloquent and heartfelt statement, the personal and spiritual aspects of our individual responses to opposition—the need to resist the urge to demonize and belittle those with whom we disagree, and to maintain openness not only of mind, but of heart.

A stimulating and challenging discussion, all in all, but of course we were only scratching the surface. One of the questions that we didn’t touch on was this: why, indeed, to use Rodney King’s famous phrase, “can’t we all just get along?” I’m not talking about never disagreeing, mind you; despite my charter membership in the Kumbaya Liberation Front, even I would not expect that to ever happen. But we should be able to conduct our discussions, air our grievances and critique each other’s ideas without the incendiary and even apocalyptic rhetoric that now characterizes the mainstream of American political discourse.