The other day a friend of mine called and wanted to talk. I went over to his home and we visited for almost two hours. He is experiencing some anxiety, worried about the challenges facing our country. He is not alone. COVID has disrupted our lives, closed businesses, destroyed jobs, and cancelled weddings, sporting events and other social gatherings. The simple act of donning a facemask in public to protect and comfort our friends around us has turned into a political battle. Demonstrations remind us that racism still exists in this land of the free, while lawless riots remind us that violence is not the solution we seek. We watch fellow Americans lose lives and property in floods, hurricanes and wildfires. And all this while enduring contentious political campaigns plagued with unprecedented levels of incivility.
Add to our national calamities the personal challenges facing each of us and our families, and it’s easy to sink into discouragement, anxiety, fear and even anger. But those negative emotions must not detract from our hope in America. I offer four comforting truths to consider during this time of seeming chaos.
1. God cares about this nation.
When this country was established, our Founders believed it to have a Divine Destiny—that its creation, protection, and mission were part of God’s will. And, indeed, they were right. Time and time again at critical points in our history, when the odds were stacked against us, the hand of the Almighty has preserved this nation. With His help, we have survived wars against insurmountable odds. We have overcome falling stock markets, failing banks, and the bursting of the housing bubble. We have endured corrupt politicians, scandals, impeachments, political maneuvering, and incivility all before. And we will again.
2. There is power in civility.
Civility is the antidote for social chaos. Thomas Jefferson explained that, “civility is not a tactic or a sentiment. It is the determined choice of trust over cynicism, of community over chaos.” A thriving nation is dependent upon a civil society. Civil discourse is the very foundation of human relationships and cooperative solutions. Incivility can be enormously costly and painful to us as individuals and as a nation. It makes us unhappy, unhealthy and ugly—even to those who agree with us. George W. Bush reminds us that, “America, at its best, matches a commitment to principle with a concern for civility. A civil society demands from each of us good will and respect, fair dealing and forgiveness.”
3. Unity is strength. Division is weakness.
So many of us have sorted our social lives along ideological lines, avoiding places where people disagree with us and news/social media with opposing viewpoints. Consequently, we start to believe that everyone—at least the rational ones—agree with us and, if someone advocates different ideas, he must be irrational, perverted, and worthy of our contempt. He becomes the enemy and when we treat our fellow Americans as enemies, our nation becomes divided…and weak. Ample media outlets stand ready to fuel our contempt and divide our citizenry with conspiracy theories, misinformation, scaremongering, and character assassination.
We need healing, not injury; unity, not division. Arthur Brooks asserts that the attitude that some deserve our contempt because they disagree with us is wrong and dangerous. We must recognize that other reasonable, moral people can reach different conclusions. We should see one another not as political labels but as fellow Americans who care about our country. John F. Kennedy admonished us to “let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.”
4. We are not enemies, but friends.
Abraham Lincoln led this nation through the most chaotic time in its history. Ideologies had collided and brother had turned against brother. In his first inaugural address, Lincoln provided counsel for then and now: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union when again touched, as surely they will be, by better angels of our nature.”
It is by arousing the better angels within us that we find comfort amid chaos.