Copyright © 2004 Henrietta W. Hay
October 15, 2004
Several mornings after the horrible events of September 11, I was sitting in my favorite coffee shop. People were sitting around talking quietly or reading the paper or just sitting and looking into whatever space they were seeing. As my friend the philosopher worked on her latte, she commented that we are seeking opportunities to come together in communities of comfort."
During these first few days we were all together as Americans, sharing a common grief for the dead, and horror at the event. In one way or another we were all seeking communities of comfort.
There was a moment in time when the whole world was with us in our grief. Practically every nation in the world was our friend.
What happened to that feeling? What happened to the community that existed for little while after tragedy? Of course it did not last.
As the shock of 9/11 started to wear off, many of us began to be afraid for our civil liberties. On October 25, Congress approved the Patriot Act with its limits to our freedom to speak and read and act. Almost immediately the country was divided between those who thought it necessary for domestic protection against terrorism, and those who thought it went too far.
We went unilaterally into a war in Iraq. Who is with us now? We can almost count on the fingers of one hand the countries that support us or even like us. And we are in a deep quagmire in Iraq with no end in sight. Americans are fairly evenly divided between those who support the war and those who think we should never have started it.
Three years after those days of shock we have, perhaps, a deeper division in our country than we have ever had. We have become so polarized that we are threatening the very system that gives us the right to have those beliefs.
We are faced with huge issues: the war, the threat of terrorism, health care, the economy, education, the environment, and the social issues like a woman's right to control her body, stem cell research. And then there is a big one: what some call the cultural change and others call moral decline. When the extremists are in control there is no room for negotiation, no compromise, no real solution.
The biggest challenge for tolerant people and "communitrians" is to try to find some sort of common ground on which to discourse with the other side.
Many years ago when I was somewhat more idealistic than I am now, and thought everything was black or white John Kennedy's "Profiles in Courage" opened my starry eyes. "It is compromise that prevents each set of reformers from crushing the group on the extreme opposite end of the political spectrum. The legislator knows that there are few if any issues where the truth and all the right and all the angels are on one side."
True community can be achieved only by people who are willing not only to defend their beliefs, but also to listen and try to understand the opposition. Community is coming together -- expanding the playing field . It takes a person with strong principles to be able to find the middle.
And yet as a nation we survived putting a constitution together, the Civil War, Joe McCarthy and Vietnam. Maybe we can survive the social battles today and expand our communities of comfort.