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Power and control — or listening

Ed Wolff • Mar 14, 2018 at 8:30 AM

The polarization of our culture is not only destructive, it is beyond all common sense. In fact, it is crazy! I strongly believe that we, as citizens of this great nation, yearn for peace, safety, security, a strong sense of responsibility toward the safety and education of our children, compassion for those who are less fortunate than us, and the basic rights as set forth in our constitution, beginning with its Preamble, "We the people."

I also believe we yearn for community. Yet, as an example, read and/or listen to the action and comments from us in the aftermath of the Parkland school massacre. One side says, "The NRA is child murderers." On the opposite side, the NRA says that the media are joyful with the massacres because it sells papers. In addition, we've read that within an hour after that horrific event, strategies were developed to demonize the students, challenge the traumatic affect on those involved, and minimize the need for gun safety.

WHAT'S WRONG WITH US? Where are we possibly headed as a nation? This is all crazy!

This is my list of major issues that are dividing us:

• Gun safety.

• Immigration.

• Sexual harassment and abuse.

• Climate/Earth care.

• Racism.

• Freedom of religion.

• Health care.

• Poverty.

• The meaning of our nation's flag.

And, as I look at this list, I imagine that every religion or faith practice embraces a compassionate view toward all of the issues. I will also venture an opinion that all of these issues draw us apart because of two very strong desires, power and control. A seminary professor of mine stated that as you look at every conflict, every war, every disagreement or argument, you will find that at the center of each is the need for either "side" to gain or retain power and control. Yet, I would also venture an opinion that in every religion or faith practice, the use of power and control for its own sake is condemned.

It seems to me that there are three directions in which our nation might move. First, we can do nothing. Of course, then we would be following the old adage of, "doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results is insanity." The chasm among different points of view would deepen and polarization would cause greater decisiveness that could end in increased violence as disagreements turn to fights and hatred.

Most people would agree that the greatest era of togetherness was during World War II; our whole way of life was threatened by the actions of the Germany/Japan/Italy Axis. It took a major threat to our nation and way of life to bring us together. That would be the second "solution" to the internal conflict our nation is facing. We wait for a crisis more significant than 9/11 or the Great Recession. Unfortunately, there is a risk that our democratic/republic way of life could end. (There are some who believe our desire for a strong democratic republic is not strong enough to bring us back into a national community that connects with one another.)

The third way to bring us together is through intentional action where leaders at the local level, with opposing views, begin to bring people together and encourage dialogue on fundamental issues upon which we seem to agree, but have different understandings of their meanings.

I wonder, just wonder, if there might be a way to bring people with different perspectives together locally to discuss dividing issues in a safe environment that probably won't bring consensus, but will bring greater understanding, respect, and stronger community among all of us. I wonder if people of different perspectives might leave the need for power and control at the door and participate with the desire to be part of a process that moves us forward, together, as people who believe in the values of our nation.

To begin with, I suggest a person, institution, or organization who is neutral in the issues could be the initiator and facilitator of discussions among people with different views. If that is possible, the initiator might introduce such topics that seem to be safer and less divisive for discussion, but are the underlying concern that bring with them different understandings. Hopefully, the topics might solicit comments that recognize our common commitment. The topics could include:

• The depth of our love for our nation.

• The belief in our Constitution and what it means.

• An understanding of what "all people" means.

• The importance of individuality and community.

• Principles over personalities.

• The interconnectedness of all people.

I'm not naive, these topics would create controversy. Unfortunately, as a nation, individually, we do not trust one another if our perspectives differ. Somehow and somewhere we need to begin a reconciliation process that can bring us back together, in an atmosphere of trust, as a community, as a region, and as a nation, recognizing our differences, similarities, and hope for the future.

I'm willing to listen, are you?

The Rev. Edward Wolff of Jonesborough is a retired Lutheran minister and progressive activist.

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