I read something today that impacted my focus on current politics. George Washington said in his “Farewell Address” in 1796, three years before he died, that his countrymen should “forswear party spirit and sectional differences and to avoid entanglement in the wars and domestic policies of other nations (Archives.gov, 2011).” If only our current politicos could hear President Washington utter those words again.
As I watched the Tea Party debate last night, I realized something very important: the men and women on that stage were genuinely interested in the success of the United States. That is not to say I agreed with them, but as an American citizen, it was my right and responsibility to hear them speak to us about their beliefs and plans for this country. Some on the stage were so far from my beliefs about our country, I had to recognize that their plans were not my plans, and I would necessarily not vote for them. Others had ideas that I believed may have merit. Would I have known that had I not listened to these American citizens of another party, or dismissed them out of hand because they were Republicans? Of course, not! Would I vote for any of the individuals on stage last night? No. Might I have considered it had they resonated as correct? Perhaps.
Washington asked in his speech that we listen to one another regardless of party affiliation. My understanding of his admonition is that we should never allow our party boundaries to become xenophobic in nature. Sadly, that is what is increasingly happening on both sides of the aisle. It appears to me, and I know to others as well that when a Democrat speaks, a Republican automatically says, “That has to be wrong.” The same can be said for the Democrats listening to a Republican.
After years of teaching in both public schools and privately, one thing is absolutely true: I can learn something from everyone with whom I come in contact. It may not be a lesson I want to learn, and it may be painful to hear it come from the individual offering this lesson, but ultimately, I grow from the experience. I learn both by example and by contrast what I want and what I don’t want. Can our legislators and candidates say the same thing? I must wonder.
George Washington, a fourth-generation British citizen of the colonies and first generation American, knew that zealous adherence to party dogma was not good for our nation. He recognized that when citizens band together with a variety of ideologies, everyone brings a piece of the puzzle together in one place. When leaders stop listening, this divisiveness can topple a national community.
We can disagree, sometimes vehemently, with our fellow Americans. We can expect nothing else. We must, however, always respect everyone with a voice enough to hear them out and contemplate in good faith the others’ opinions and beliefs. Stalwart devotion to dogma is not healthy for our country. Deigning gravitas to the opinions solely of those with whom one agrees is sheer idiocy and arrogance.
Compassionate communication between those who disagree is power. Sophisticated learning from those who hold opposing views is genius. Cooperative work with those who have differing priorities is strength. These are the qualities I hope to see in our government in short order, because what we’re doing now is simply not working toward anyone’s benefit. I believe in my heart of hearts that George Washington wold agree with me.
Archives.com (2011) “Founding Fathers – George Washington.” Charters of Freedom. Acquired on September 12, 2011 from http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.archives.gov%2Fexhibits%2Fcharters%2Fconstitution_founding_fathers_virginia.html%23Washington&h=JAQA5rLa2AQCSqJJwSGOTgVo1d-K2CpGStJNR1k4Mh8mrDg