Dover Dems Chair Jim Verscheuren reflects on the political divide in America and asks if we, as individuals, can agree on living in and promoting a civil society. His guest opinion was published in Foster's on January 3, 2021.
Are you as distraught and exhausted as I am by the political divide in our country today? Whatever our political leanings, might we agree on the value of promoting and living in a civil society? Acting on that value is never easy. But it is essential. Might we agree that each of us has had a part in creating our current troubles?
In a civil American society, people who vote differently are not enemies. We are all flawed, imperfect human beings with incomplete and imperfect information, mostly trying our best to build (or today, hold together) a beloved country. Our country is as imperfect, as flawed as each of us. Before we close our ears and hearts to those who may see the world differently than we do, perhaps a commitment to listening and some humility are first in order.
Each of us is responsible for the integrity of our words and deeds. Integrity is a value that requires us to act with fairness, transparent honesty, and a strong moral compass. Fairness and transparent honesty are especially at risk in political disputes. It is all too easy for us to sacrifice them, and in the process our own integrity, in the effort to drive home our own view.
When we overlook or make excuses for our own shortcomings and vices while highlighting those of our political opponents, we compromise our integrity. When we experience others doing it, we question their intentions and lose trust in their words or deeds. When we do it ourselves, we invite others to question our intentions and lose trust in our words or deeds. Particularly in today’s political climate, it has become difficult to grant that a differing view has any merit whatsoever. Perhaps the cartoon character Pogo was right, “We have seen the enemy, and he is us.” A helpful rule of thumb: relying on our own imperfect and incomplete information, a bit of humility may help us appreciate that we just might not have all the answers.
I chair the Dover Democratic Committee. I sometimes lead worship services at my Unitarian Universalist church in Portsmouth. Commitment to fostering a civil society is one of my Democratic values. Honoring spiritual beliefs that differ from mine is a core value of my faith. I have integrity when I live my values and share my views with honesty and fairness. My obligation in a civil society is to honor the integrity of those who live by other values and share different views with honesty and fairness.
Over the last four years I have worked to move away from the “How could anyone vote for Trump?” attitude, toward honoring the integrity of friends and colleagues who have shared their views with me. This has not been easy for me. I am sure it is just as hard for those friends and colleagues to hear why I worked so tirelessly against his reelection. As we move into 2021, each of us has the opportunity to do our best to speak and act with integrity. We will all fail at times. To start, take a deep breath, take a reflective look in the mirror, listen first. We can do this. In fact, we must.
About the Author
Jim Verschueren has chaired the Dover Democratic Committee since January 2018. The most formative experiences of his life include growing up in Michigan in an often struggling blue collar family, two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Cameroon, West Africa, the births of his two sons, losing his wife of 32 years, Donna, to pancreatic cancer, the gift of a second loving marriage to his husband, Carlo, and a lifetime of gratifying professional work in service to others. Jim retired in 2009, then spent 2010 living in a small village in Southern France where he and Carlo return annually. He is a devout member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Portsmouth, NH, and a Dover Rotarian for 20 years. He served as a Dover State Representative from 2013 – 2017. In addition to Democratic politics, Jim’s passions are immigrant justice and voting rights.