Within the last several days, I’ve started this column a half dozen times. But with events moving faster than it takes a palmetto bug to scurry under the furniture in Florida, I’ve had to change its course that many times. I think I have alighted on its final theme: Senator Flake’s small “stitch” in the fabric of our country, citing his sad lamentation that it is being “torn apart.”
In a review of the book, “The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War” by Joanne Freeman, in last Sunday’s book review section of the New York Times, the reviewer, began: “So, you think congress is dysfunctional? …there was a time so polarized that politics generated a cycle of violence in congress and out of it that led to the deadliest war in the nation’s history.”
Freeman unearthed an 11 volume document written between 1828 and 1870 revealing several of the most extreme physical clashes, almost to the point of murder, that occurred on the senate floor leading up to and after the Civil War. The review ends, “Freeman doesn’t make explicit comparisons between then and today. She doesn’t have to: a crippled congress, opposing political sides that don’t communicate meaningfully… a seemingly unbridgeable cultural divide. Sound familiar? All that is missing is an Honest Abe to save us.”
From my own personal life experience and background, I easily honed in on the most significant truism above: the lack of meaningful communication. Meaningful communication is a skilled art that escapes many people especially during high tension emotional moments when dealing with the very core of their rigid belief system. We all have rigid belief systems. That’s what makes us who we are. And how we handle these differences in belief systems when it comes to relationships with others, is a function – not of our IQ but of our EQ – emotional intelligence. This is described by Daniel Goleman in his book of the same name and his many other subsequent writings on that and related subjects. It is a lesson in how to deal with people with whom you disagree, without causing deadly combat. It’s not a secret, but you’ll have to read it for yourself.
Calling people by derogatory names, demeaning them in public utterances, lashing out with damaging stereotypes, rallies a crowd. And it also emboldens hatreds of what is being sold as “the other.” This is so especially damaging because it is unnecessary when often those who engage in that kind of rhetoric have legitimately positive accomplishments to hype, which, alas, is boring compared to the hostile spate of playground warfare.
And so Jeff Flake took the small step of displaying a willingness to be open minded. But in the context of congressional “steps” taken, it was an enormous step as he plowed through the vitriol wafting over the committee. Was it the elevator experience, or the sounds of a country being “torn apart?”
At this writing, there is no clue regarding the final outcome of the Kavanaugh nomination. So much of it went wrong on both sides. But there is much to say about the power of one vote, and much to say about the need to lower the rhetoric, to reach across the aisle, and to recognize that we are indeed living in a country that is being “torn apart,” and is crying out for leadership to bring us together.