What would almost all Americans say they agree on – whether conservative, liberal, or politically neutral – amidst our deep divisions? Here’s a go at eight of such possible principles:
1. We are committed to being a full (as opposed to an illiberal) democracy.
2. We need a healthy, living Earth.
3. All people are created equal.
4. The rules of science help us move toward shared facts (that is, both methods and results need to be repeatable by others as a check).
5. We need accurate public information.
6. A free press is essential.
7. We are committed to freedom of thought.
8. Honesty is critically important in politics and civil society.
I would be interested in reasons given by any American for disagreeing with any of the above. However, none of these eight principles may be as secure as we may have once believed.
Several years ago, a friend of mine who had recently retired from being the CEO of a custom home-building company had to come back out of that long-anticipated retirement when a recession hit and the company and its jobs were at risk. The company and jobs were saved.
Perhaps at this point in time, many of us need to come out of whatever retirement we may be in – whether from work or political engagement – to ensure that all of the above eight principles are retained not only in our community but also throughout our nation. It looks like it won’t be easy.
In case you’re wondering what you can do, here is a second list of eight – this time a sample of what kinds of people and contributions are needed now in our community and nation:
1. People who observe the world around them and take the time to read through historical, political, financial, administrative, legal and/or scientific documents in order to sift through information to understand and contribute to truth in societal debates.
2. People who make graphs, charts and other visual aids to help others understand the information in those documents.
3. People who volunteer with and financially support nongovernmental organizations that work skillfully and strategically year in and out in support of any or all of the eight principles.
4. People who serve on public committees and run for public office on behalf of any of the above eight principles.
5. People who make proposals on behalf of any of the eight principles AND work strategically with others to get those proposals adopted (it’s easy to propose; it’s a real slog to get proposals enacted).
6. Whistleblowers and investigative journalists.
7. People who seek out and listen closely to people with whom they think they fundamentally disagree – in person when possible, but also through books or other media;
8. People who refuse to give up when any of the eight principles may seem lost.
Perhaps in shorthand these boil down to learn, propose and resist.
We know we have huge divisions of opinion on myriad social issues such as whether public lands should remain public; the degree to which democracy is threatened by a concentration of wealth and corporate power; whether the burning of fossil fuels is raising temperatures on Earth; whether female and male are as immutable and discrete as has been conventionally believed; how nations can best deal with millions of political and climate refugees leaving areas they no longer find safe or existent; whether the human population is exceeding the capacity of our Earth to care for us.
But no matter what our divisions in opinion, active defense and use of the first eight principles can help us hang together as a society; learn from each other; and arrive at wise, durable solutions. You’re needed. Our country and world need you to make contributions on the basis of your particular skills and interests, no matter your age; occupation; wealth (or lack thereof); personality; or racial, cultural, educational, religious (or non-religious) background.
And then laugh every day, including at yourself. Sunny spirits are remarkably successful at prevailing!
Mary O’Brien lives in Castle Valley and works with Grand Canyon Trust, a Colorado Plateau conservation organization.