Category Archives: conflict

The American War between Freedom and Equality

It is a strange fact that freedom and equality, the two basic ideas of democracy, are to some extent contradictory. Logically considered, freedom and equality are mutually exclusive, just as society and the individual are mutually exclusive.

~Thomas Mann~

I found it hard to digest the above statement. I was raised to believe that liberty and equality were both cornerstones of the American adventure. Yet looking back at the history of America and the experience of living here today, it is clear that we have  a conflict between these two ideals.

The American Revolution took place with the goal of freedom from the tyranny and colonial control by the British Empire. Leaders of the revolution fought for the right to make their own decisions by casting aside the British yoke. Equality was not much of an issue. Although our founding fathers maintained that all men were created equal. Yet this equality did not include women, the natives we pushed aside or other people of non-European extraction. In particular, slaves imported from Africa were seen at best as three-fifths of a person for legislative reasons.

The issue of equality came into prominence in the mid nineteen hundreds. It boiled over in the Civil War with northerners fighting for equality of all people and southerners fighting for freedom to exercise their right to control others, namely slaves whom they viewed as possessions rather than people.

Freedom and equality have remained issues up until the present. Liberals struggle for the equal rights of all in terms of medical care, education and judicial fairness to name a few. Conservatives struggle to maintain their power and control leaving others to manage their own affairs. That may be oversimplified but I think it includes the main issues.

In recent years both sides have retreated to their corners insisting they are right and those in other camps are wrong. Once we were able to discuss our differences as individuals. Our representatives in government were also able to listen to each other and work toward agreements which would be at least tolerable to both sides. Now the struggle is seen as us versus them from both perspectives.

We have allowed the current power structure to erode our ability to listen to each other and seek ways to compromise. We have also allowed our country to be seen as abandoning our role as a world leader and focusing only on our self-centered interests.

As we face off with each other and with the rest of the world we run the risk of becoming marginalized in the conversation about how to move forward. We have the choice of continuing down this path or opening our ears to hear each other. What we choose will have serious consequences, good or bad, for the future of our society.

Action steps:  

  • Learn to listen to those with whom we disagree.
  • Look for areas of agreement upon which we can build.
  • Seek areas in which we can negotiate.
  • Acknowledge those who help us.
  • Thanks Bob for inspiring me to write this article.

Solomon and the Half Baby Solution

Get me a sword.

~King Solomon~

 You may recall the Bible story about the two women who came before the wise Solomon. Both claimed a certain baby was hers. After hearing their arguments, Solomon proposed cutting the baby in two and giving each woman half a baby. You can read the rest of the story in the Bible’s Book of Kings.

I thought of this story because I feel we are at the point in our society where we have sides ready to destroy America so the other side cannot have it. Desperate times indeed. We have been at odds before over what is best for our country and have not always come to a peaceful solution. The Civil War is one example. But now even the two sides have a number of factions each claiming to be right while everyone else is wrong. Various factions feel justified in fearing and hating their opponents.

At most times in the past we have been able to listen to each other even if we don’t agree and usually have been able to reach some kind of compromise. The goal is for both sides to have at least some of what they want without toppling our whole society. I am not sure we are still capable of or willing to reach a compromise based on our current state of affairs. Most people feel entrenched on one side or another and have difficulty appreciating anything of a positive nature in each other.

We seem to be living in a precarious time of darkness. Unfortunately we have no national leadership to show us how to compromise and listen to each other. We have a president who seems to delight in seeing us at each other’s throats so he can go about making our country one which serves his needs alone. We may gain short term benefits economically but without an environment, how will we survive. If we destroy the world it will not matter if we are globalists, nationalists, or individualists. Not a promising predicament.

What are our options? One is to stay at each other’s throats until nothing is left of our civilization. Another is to throw up our hands and give in to a life of chaos. In the absence of reasonable leadership, the only option I see left is to take matters into our own hands. To accomplish anything, we must accept that winning at all costs is no victory. We need to keep our own counsel while we listen to each other. Once we understand what is important to others, we can begin to find common ground. That does not mean we will agree on everything but once we start to listen we can start looking for ways to compromise which will help us work toward achieving our common needs.

Action steps

  • Write down what is important to you.
  • Start conversations with others by seeking to understand their needs and goals.
  • Look for overlap between your needs and wishes and those of others.
  • Seek ways you can work together toward this end.
  • In areas of disagreement, look for bridges between you and them.