“How can we love our country and not love our countrymen? And loving them, reach out a hand when they fall, heal them when they’re sick, and provide opportunities to make them self-sufficient so they will be equal in fact and not just in theory.” —Ronald Reagan
Disinformation, disfunction, violence, a deadly virus, vaccination deniers, climate deniers, wildfires, hurricanes, floods. We are collectively looking out at the rubble we have created in the last several years.
It’s ironic to think that the last time the country was united was September 11, 2001. It was twenty years ago, but it might as well have been one-hundred considering the current state of division and distrust in the country.
In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attack on New York, Mayor Rudy Giuliani became America’s mayor. Without hesitation, he jumped into the chaos and confusion and brought calm and a sense of order. Giuliani became a symbol, a role model for facing a staggering challenge, never giving in to fear or doubt, inspiring us all to pull together. Giuliani’s reputation as a leader was unassailable. (What a difference 20 years makes.)
Over the weeks and months following the attacks, however, there were thousands of heroes: firemen, police, paramedics, city workers, strangers helping strangers working for a common cause.
What happened to that America? What happened to that kind of trust and confidence we had in one another?
On a deeper level, there are more urgent questions to answer. What kind of country do we want? How do we make it work for all? And how do we move forward without tearing each other apart?
The founders had to answer those questions and more. And they didn’t answer them all. However, it took the ability to listen, work together and find consensus to make that first giant leap into democracy. And it took character.
Writing of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson described our first leader as “incapable of fear, meeting personal dangers with the calmest unconcern. Perhaps the strongest feature in his character was prudence, never acting until every circumstance, every consideration, was maturely weighed; refraining if he saw a doubt, but, when once decided, going through with his purpose, whatever obstacles opposed.”
Washington succeeded in leading the country’s revolution because his soldiers and the people trusted his commitment and character.
In the midst of that revolution, smallpox was rapidly spreading. The best science of the day called for taking a small piece of infected tissue, slicing open the skin of the uninfected, and placing it inside the wound to create antibodies to protect them from the disease. With her husband away and her children to care for, Abigail Adams trusted the city’s doctor, had herself and her children inoculated, and they survived.
With the overwhelming amount of scientific knowledge that has come since, many have chosen the dark corner of misinformation and conspiracies instead of the sunlight of wisdom.
We use to face challenges together with courage and commitment. Now, many face those challenges with distrust and my-right-ism. We have lost what binds us together as countrymen, to help each other when we fall, and heal each other when we’re sick.
Today, we are asking the same questions the founders faced:
What kind of country do we want? How do we make it work for all? And how do we move forward without tearing each other apart?
We need to answer those questions not only for ourselves but for our children and begin to believe in each other, again.