In a week marred by an angry mob, incited by the president of the United States and which breached the United States Capitol, I found myself wondering if this is what reaping the whirlwind looks like. More importantly, I have wondered what conversations we should be having in our homes, neighborhoods and communities.
In such moments, I look to principles and the application of those principles by individuals and institutions throughout history for the beginning of better days.
In the early hours of Thursday morning I found myself, in the throes of both physical and emotional pain, pacing in my home office. I was groping in the darkness of the previous day, grasping for principles that would mark the path forward.
To take note is to pause, ponder and reflect on questions such as, “What happened? How did we get to this place? What is my role and responsibility in it?” An unexamined moment such as this is to miss what may be transformational individually and collectively.
We must also note, and would be wise to remember, that no one who plants thistles in the spring expects to harvest fruit in the fall. We should not think for a single, solitary second that those who perpetually plant hate and contempt are expecting to reap love and kindness later.
The nation should also note the timeless principles shared by two-time presidential candidate and former Illinois Gov. Adlai Stevenson: “What counts now is not just what we are against, but what we are for. Who leads us is less important than what leads us — what convictions, what courage, what faith. …”
Perhaps the most important moment in the mayhem of Wednesday occurred just six hours after rioters in an angry, contemptuous rage brought the Congress and the business of the republic to a screeching halt. When the vice president gaveled the Senate back into session, the republic rolled on. The representatives of the citizens continued to carry out their constitutional duties and do the work of “we the people.”
The institutions of government held, our founding documents did not flinch, the principles that have fostered freedom, here and abroad, persevered and the constitutional republic of the United States of America rolled on.
Ernest Renan, a 19th-century French philosopher, wrote, “A nation has a soul, a spiritual principle. One is in the past, the other in the present. One is the possession of a rich legacy of memories; the other is the desire to live together and to value the common heritage.”
The memory of a dark day in our nation’s history will give way to the enlightening confidence that the heart and soul and principles of America always carry the day. The heart of “we the people” continues to beat to the rhythm of freedom, liberty, equality and opportunity.
In 2005, Gaylord Swim may have hit the right diagnosis of the current situation and the right prescription for the kind of courage we need: “This political process requires strong advocates, certainly, but it also takes a counterbalancing sense of humility, civility and dialogue … the political course often leads to power struggles, pride, vanity and egocentric ambition, ending in acrimony. It all too often manifests itself in strident voices, character assassinations, protest demonstrations, cloakroom deals and corruption.”
We must have the courage to call out hate in all its forms, including contempt, anger, prejudice and even petty social media slurs. In the absence of courage, hate leads to a place where fear and frustration foment into rage and even violence. Every American must call out hate for what it is and then do their part to advance meaningful conversations and elevate their dialogue.
We must have the courage to not consume, or be consumed by, any person, politician, celebrity, publication, news outlet or social media platform peddling contempt and hate as the answer for those we disagree with.
Hate and contempt lead to the morally bankrupt idea of superiority and result in dehumanizing other people based on politics, race, religion, gender, orientation, social status or belief.
As Dumbledore said to Harry Potter, “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.” Courage is not calling out your enemies. Courage is calling out your friends. It is time to take fresh courage.
A good friend regularly reminds me of the words of St. Francis of Assisi who said, “Always preach the gospel; when necessary use words.” That might be the best description ever given for what we must do in order to improve the direction and course of our country.
I would say it this way: “Always declare the principles of freedom; when necessary use words.” Our actions will determine what comes next for the nation.
Words have meaning and the meaning matters. We all are accountable for our words, whether hateful or helpful. The test for the American people is to challenge our political parties, political leaders and ourselves, and to demonstrate behavior that lives up to the principles we profess to believe.
Our true commitment to freedom will be revealed not just by what we declare, but by what we actually do.
Thistles planted in the past have grown as noxious weeds naturally do. Today, the country is reaping the whirlwind of contempt. We should declare the season of thistle-planting over so that our children and our children’s children can reap the precious fruit found in the blessings of liberty.
Morning continues to come to America, especially after the darkest of days. The pain subsides, the light comes and the republic will roll on as long as “we the people” take note, take heart, take courage and take action.