By Tim Webber
It probably wasn’t too surprising for anyone in the academic seminar: The lesson for our first session focused on how to be civil in political discussions with those whose opinions differ from ours.
And while most of the class would likely agree that they learned more from our Drake session in the evening and our own personal experiences, there were still important lessons to take from the morning session. Our country is becoming more and more polarized from top to bottom. Even at colleges, like Drake, where there should be a diversity of thought and free sharing of ideas, there is far too often silence. We choose to avoid touchy subjects because we’d fear losing friends, or worse.
The speakers at the morning session approached the polarization problem from two different angles. One approached things from an individual perspective: We can bring the country together by breaking our silence and seeking out those difficult conversations (and listening!). Another, coming from a macro perspective, was concerned that our Congress wouldn’t find bipartisan solutions until they shared a common, binding interest.
My mind jumped to what would be the most pressing binding interest: war. Those thoughts informed my perspective on the afternoon’s bus tour of memorials.
This quote from the wall of the Lincoln Memorial stuck with me the most:
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
-Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address
It’s astounding how much these words, spoken over 150 years ago, could do so much to help our current polarized society. There’s great advice in every phrase here:
- With malice towards none,
- With charity for all,
- With firmness in our God-given ability not to necessarily be right, but that we may see what is right,
- Let’s complete our duties to the country
- Heal the nation’s wounds and care for those who have fought for their beliefs,
- That we may achieve lasting peace among ourselves and all nations.
Was Lincoln a great president or what?
The lasting peace among nations of which he spoke didn’t arrive after the Civil War, as the other memorials we visited proved. Nor did the peace among ourselves. But it’s reassuring to know that our country was once torn farther apart than it is currently, and we were eventually able to recover.
If nothing else, the memorial tour reminded us all of one important fact: We are all Americans. And, as multiple students later pointed out, it was hard not to feel proud of that fact while viewing such important tributes to our nation’s history.