Returning to “We”
MERIDEN, CT (January 21, 2021) — America seems to have wandered away from the first word of the preamble to our Constitution: “We.” The people of the United States includes everyone from sea to shining sea – from those who “Feel the Bern” to those who would “Make America Great Again.” Like it or not, “We” bound ourselves by certain ideals that supersede partisan affiliation and transcend parochial concern.
We did not leave our future to chance when our states united. Instead, we launched this government on March 4, 1789 under a written Constitution that left room for a familial coexistence complete with familial dissent, disagreement, and discord. We made a deal that we would each limit some of our freedoms in exchange for a promise to work together to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity.
Consider the credit union to see how this model works in modern society. These financial cooperatives operate under a “People Helping People” model where the deposits of one member provide the capital for another’s loans, and vice versa. A credit union, therefore, relies upon the delicate balance of individual accountability to a community and the community’s commitment to treat the individual equitably and consistently.
The increased tension of the January 6th U.S. Capitol riot left the fabric of our young nation taut as a drumhead. COVID-19 has us squeezed in a tight-fisted, two-handed grip. One hand ravages our bodies while the other picks our pocket. Social distancing and face masks blunt the spread of this virus, but these partial remedies also blunt reasoned public discourse. The virus silenced the respectful exchange of ideas in our schoolyards, town squares, and state houses. Sadly, talking heads and social media mavens fill the void with televised invective and digital competitions for attention.
Our town squares are silent. We cannot shake hands or share a hug without wondering if we were infected. Our hearts and minds followed us into the modern-day foxholes of our isolation where many of us will crouch until the battle is over. But as innately social animals, is it any wonder that some of us would reject the isolation despite the physical risk?
Prolonged restriction of social human contact accelerates the raging fire of a deeply divided country that saw American blood shed on sacred American ground. Democrats and Republicans ignored the smoldering as they each stoked the fire through September 11, 2001, two unpopular wars, two disputed Presidential elections, a century’s worth of natural disasters, the election of our first Black President, the Great Recession, same sex marriage, Black Lives Matter, shocking increases in gun violence, an unsettling ideological imbalance on the Supreme Court, three Presidential impeachments, and more.
Everyone looks like an enemy from a foxhole. Will this ever end? Can we make sense of it all? Will we learn our lesson? Surely the answers are yes, but the vexing question is when?
We will turn the corner when we find compassion for the anguish and anger coming from the other foxhole. We will make sense of it all when, like the Good Samaritan, we put ourselves in harm’s way to help someone who may hate us enough to hurt us. Domestic tranquility will come when we each hold ourselves accountable for turning our backs on American unity and begin to bind our neighbors’ wounds without expectation of recompense or accolade.
American Exceptionalism, if it exists, may rise from our uncanny ability to close our self-inflicted wounds stitch by painful stitch. The jagged cut is deep. We can stanch the bleeding, but we also need to heal.
Consider President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address delivered at the end of the Civil War in which he called for the North and the South to forgive one another for their contributions to the scourge of war. He did not lay blame. In a mere 701 words, President Lincoln shifted our focus to the promise of a united future.
“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 achieve and cherish a lasting peace among ourselves and with the world. To do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”
When we climb out of our foxholes and rejoin our neighbors in the schoolyards, the town squares, and the state houses, may we finally see ourselves through the lens of “We.” May our perspective refract to reveal the bounty of a diverse community that improves itself through honest struggle. May we find in this moment the strength to make one more stitch. As we heal, may we find the courage to return to “We.”
Bruce Adams is President and CEO of the Credit Union League of Connecticut.
About Credit Union League of Connecticut
The Credit Union League of Connecticut serves, advocates for, and advances the interests of Connecticut credit unions in order to support their growth and maximize the positive impact credit unions have on their members, communities, employees, and on all their relationships. For the past 85 years, The Credit Union League of Connecticut has helped its members position for sustainable success and growth through a variety of offerings including government relations, regulatory compliance, executive education, vendor partnerships, and marketing services.