Colliding Worlds

Last night we sat around our dinner table as we do most every Sunday night, the surface littered with snacks and appetizers and the air filled with conversation.  This particular night was pretty small – only two people joined our weekly Happy Hour.  But these two people were very busy.

One is a politically conservative man with a degree in business administration.  The other is a politically progressive young woman with a degree in the sciences.  They were energetically engaged in an argument over the issue of banning immigrants from our country.  Not surprisingly, the argument echoed much of the rhetoric we read in the headlines and on social media.  Protection and caution vs. mercy and love, as though these two things are mutually exclusive somehow.  While passionate, I appreciated the way these two debated – out of mutual respect rather than mutual derision.

And as with the clash of emotions elsewhere, nothing was accomplished.  Neither one had convinced the other, both remained steadfast in their position.  Although parting amicably is in and of itself an admirable things these days, it isn’t helpful beyond that.  Afterwards my wife and I sat and talked about the evening, trying to determine how we might have guided things towards a more helpful direction.  Not in terms of topic, but in terms of process.

Despite the clear warnings of our Founding Fathers, we’re saddled with a two-party system that is intent on gaining and maintaining power.  Both John Adams and George Washington had pointed warnings against such a system.  As we see, such a system ultimately bogs down into competition.  Neither side is really all that committed to solving the problems facing our nation.  Each is too focused on how to regain control and hold on to it, hoping to prevent minor policy changes or enact minor policy changes without addressing the big issues because doing so might backfire and cause them to lose power.  Add to this  a system where our elected representatives in the Senate and House of Representatives have no term limits, and you end up with a system where members primarily focus on getting elected and re-elected.

So despite a plethora of needs in our country, these things aren’t ultimately going to get dealt with because both parties are more interested in staying in control or gaining control.  That’s what matters!  Promises are made about how to fix things but of course, as we know, those promises are rarely kept, and poorly implemented even when they are.

Last night’s discussion aired out a lot of ideas on both sides of a complicated issue.  But what it didn’t accomplish was a solution.  How do we balance security with mercy?  If we can rule out both poles of the issue as untenable, how do we find a middle ground?  How do we find an actual solution that addresses both sets of concerns and goals?  If we don’t learn how to do that again, there’s no hope of accomplishing much of anything.

We can quickly outline our basic starting points – national security and the moral obligation to help those in need – and then move on to how do we find a solution that addresses both starting points.  Imperfectly, obviously.  Both sides will have to give a bit, and the solution will undoubtedly be ultimately unsatisfying to both sides, while still accomplishing some of what both sides feel is very important.  I don’t know many people who advocate for national security because they hate refugees or Muslims and have no desire to help people in need.  I know very few people who advocate for more open borders and more generous refugee programs because they hope that they and the people they love will be hurt and harmed by any of these people.  The two sides are not mutually exclusive, in other words, and the issue is mainly one of prioritization.

Perhaps this is what we can try to foster in our Happy Hour discussions.  Practical ways of moving forward so that these practical suggestions could be what people begin communicating instead of simply regurgitating polemical rhetoric ultimately aimed not at solving problems but controlling elections.  I’d much rather see that sort of thing on my Facebook feed, and it’s something far more valuable to our society as a whole.





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