Change is hard. As the old saying goes, better the devil you know than the one you don’t. That attitude is, however, a prescription for paralysis. In the situation in which the United States finds itself as we face the mid-term elections seems unique but there are parallels. A thoughtful reading of history shows that the problems of the past were fraught as those of the present but somehow we managed to muddle through and find some sort of resolution.
The prerequisite of moving though a crisis is thoughtful listening and that seems to be in short supply today. When anger drives communication the likelihood of progress is greatly lessened. We seem to have lost the ability to get around our anger and listen thoughtfully. Somehow that seems to imply giving up or surrendering to another point of view. When anger underlies all argument then all too often the lack of resolution leads to an escalation which ends in violence. Once violence gets the upper hand then things generally get worse.
We are now more polarized as a nation than any time since the era of civil rights and Vietnam. In those turbulent times there was huge disagreement with governmental policy. While cities were burning and soldiers returning from Vietnam were greeted with vilification and disdain, we eventually did the right thing. Civil rights began to make headway, we realized that our veterans were as upset as the rest of us about the war and the inflammatory rhetoric that marked so much of the 1960s and 1970s began to dissipate; we began to listen to one another.
A key factor during these times was that the leadership of our government set an example that was hopeful. Even if we disagreed with President Reagan, there were few who thought he was evil. President H.W. Bush and President Clinton had their faults but few of us thought they were mentally unstable.
Today we are in a world that has changed drastically from a few decades ago. One wonders how that happened; the answers are complex and varied but most would agree that we are set on a path that is fueled, not by hope and meaningful communication but by fear. When a nation is driven by fear rational choices can easily be lost in anxiety.
The violence that has seized us is not coming from thoughtful folk. The vast majority of us are horrified by recent events. It is easy to be pleased about the economy, the low unemployment numbers but those things are not likely to continue if mistrust and hatred, racism and isolationism become the ruling message under which we live.
We have an opportunity to stand up and be counted, to not be driven by fear and mistrust. The question of can we change has only one answer: we must. If we continue to stumble down the path on which we are currently moving with gathering speed, then we may find ourselves in a country that is beyond recognition. If all of us speak out, it need not happen.