“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” ~ Edmund Burke
There is anger and fear in the air.
Tensions are high, and so are the stakes. Some insist that we are sitting on a powder keg, and it is only a matter of time before it blows.
In such an atmosphere, there are those who call for resistance and others who call for forbearance. The lines have been drawn, and we are urged to either do something about the danger, or sit idly by and allow the worst to come.
We hear that if we don’t resist, we are part of the problem. Those who advocate patience are accused of inaction.
The truth is, the vast majority of Americans dwell somewhere in the center of the social and political spectrum. Amongst all the rhetoric, they are being pressured to pick a side and move toward one pole or the other—exacerbating the problem.
I propose that we resist—resist both becoming a part of the “resistance” and becoming a part of the extreme that the resistance was created to fight.
The most courageous thing we can do at this time is not to rebel, but rather to hearken back to the values on which the country was founded and find a way to coexist.
This call for coexistence is not meant to silence those who believe that it is time to speak up and speak out. Rather, it is to urge them toward dialogue instead of diatribe.
We must speak to one another rather than at one another.
In these troubled times, there is certainly a need for advocacy, but there is no need for such animosity. Our system is stymied by fierce partisanship, and our spirits are crushed by constant antagonism and hostility.
The reality of our checks and balances system of democracy is that if we are to make any progress, we will have to do so together. If we continue to stoke the fire that burns between us, the obstructionism that has become so pervasive will only continue.
We will get nowhere.
My appeal for civility and patience, therefore, comes not from a desire to meet conflict and danger with silence and indifference. It is rather the recognition that we are only able to make others aware of errors and inconsistencies if they are listening—and they are far more likely to listen if we speak with respect rather than rancor.
Yelling may be a good way to whip up your crowd, but speaking softly is a more effective way to reach those who aren’t already listening. Such a volume paradox may not conform to the laws of physics, but it is certainly consistent with the laws of human nature—nobody wants to be screamed at.
We want to be spoken to, calmly and with respect.
And the goal, of course, is not simply to communicate with those who already agree—unless it is popularity, not efficacy, that we seek. If it is true progress we are after—real social change that will better the lives of as many people as possible—then we must recognize the need to communicate and collaborate with those who differ.
For ours is a society that has long enshrined the values of diversity, equality, and freedom.
With these values in our hearts, we strive not for what is right for the few, but for the many; this is goodness. We embrace the other not because we want him or her to be like us, but because we believe that “us” is better and stronger when it is inclusive and diverse. (This may provoke the question of whether the fact that our country is called the U.S. is simply a coincidental acronym, or if there is something more profound and inevitable at play.)
So what are we to do then about the tension that courses through the air like electricity and threatens to ignite the awaiting powder keg?
Ignoring it would be as foolish as stoking it. The answer is to engage rather than enrage, to focus on points of commonality, and from there to work together toward compromise and solutions that will be mutually beneficial.
The dialectic that is being perpetuated—portraying two mutually exclusive forces, forever at odds—is neither factual nor productive. Many who paint in such black and white are steeped in fear and cynicism, and are often more concerned with their own particular agenda than they are with the good of the whole. Or, perhaps more optimistically, they are simply overwhelmed with frustration and panic, and they cannot see that there is a better and more collaborative path.
Regardless, all people should be supported in their valid concerns. They should be encouraged to make them known in productive and positive ways.
If we are to coexist, we will need the passionate participation of those who care enough to raise vital issues and assure that everyone’s interests are being represented. When such passion can be channeled productively and considerately, then we can be assured that good men and women will stand together to avert the triumph of evil that Edmund Burke forewarned.
Author: Marc Erlbaum
Editor: Callie Rushton
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