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September 17, 2009

Hawthorn Hill: Compromise is not a bad thing

Much as I crave and seek solitude, complete withdrawal is neither possible nor particularly useful in a shrinking world. Having been raised to value community and the work required to maintain healthy and viable communities, recent behavioral trends in this country have conspired to undermine my faith in its ability, and willingness, to do what is necessary to bring about its salvation.

The Federalist papers issued the strongest warning to date about the dangers of factionalism. Perhaps every one of us ought to go back and read those papers to remind ourselves of what is best about this country — and about the pitfalls that loom large if any democracy is not wary of its inherent danger points. It might also be a good idea to review relevant sections of deTocqueville’s Democracy in America, perhaps the most insightful study of America ever written.

The vitriol that seems to characterize political discourse in this country has achieved levels of incivility and anger that I for one would never have imagined possible in my lifetime. I was fortunate to have been raised to value difference, to understand that dissent is an essential element in any successful democracy, and that protecting one’s views from challenge is both unhealthy and rather cowardly. When I do have a discussion with someone whose views differ from mine I enjoy the give and take. And what I most value is the extent to which an opposing perspective makes me look even more deeply and analytically into my own. I try to play what Aristotle described as ``the believing game.’’ It is a tough game to play, but it is worth the effort.

The recent outburst during the President’s address to Congress on health care is an unfortunate example of the sad state of discourse in America. The notion that an individual who sees things differently is a liar is as reprehensible as it is counterproductive. No wonder so many of our really fine legislators started leaving Washington years ago.

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