A recent whirlwind trip took me to both Gettysburg and Washington, DC in the same week. Both sites were good places to reflect on people, politics and the ideals that guide our actions.
There is something profound about visiting the battlefields of Gettysburg. It is hallowed ground, full of sacrifice. The site of a battle fought by a nation divided. Brothers and friends fought against each other.
Three years after the gruesome battle, while the Civil War still raged on in the South, Abraham Lincoln visited and gave his famous Gettysburg Address. In it, he did not gloat over his troops’ victory or demean the southern soldiers who fell short in their attempts. Instead, he recognized all men who fought for ideals of deep personal significance.
Another day I stood looking toward the U.S. Capitol from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I have a dream…” speech. A line from the speech came to mind, “let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.”
That is where we are; once again divided. This time it is not by geography but by party lines. Our highest officials are constantly posturing for ways to snub each other, and people are criticized for whom they sit by at a baseball game. Bitterness and hatred ring out — reverberated from sea to shining sea on every device or media through news outlets and social networks.
Agriculture seems to be one of the few places where politicians can still reach across the aisle and work for the good of the country. Even that is in danger as old school politicians, who have experienced the fruits of collaboration and bipartisan work, reach retirement.
When did our society lose interest in the common good? Have we become so egotistical and spoiled we believe in the all or nothing mentality, where you are either with us or against us — and if you are against us, you are my enemy?
It does not have to be that way. We have the ability to do as King suggested in his speech and struggle for freedom “on the high plain of dignity and discipline.”
My dream for our country is that we would rededicate ourselves to the ideal of being a nation that is indivisible. A nation full of people who choose to practice civility and extend respect to all around them, where a person can be open to views that do not conform to party line and strive to create compromises for the good of all people.
It is time for us to hold ourselves to the highest standards of civility and seek out friendships with those who challenge our mindset. Move away from doing what is comfortable to the difficult that will make a difference in the world. Value those who think critically and speak with reason to their position. Refuse to be defined by ideas that do not fit your beliefs. And if your idea does not prevail, do not hold bitterness or contempt in your heart instead practice grace and humility.
We live in a divisive time, but I have faith that our nation’s commitment to pursuing freedom and liberty is strong enough overcome the differences at hand.