At Odds With Ourselves

79310435_131963728899I’ve spoken before of my great grandfather John William Seth Smith who served in the Union Army during the Civil War. I know what I do about his service because he died fairly young and his widow, my great grandmother, filed for a pension from the Army based on strong evidence that his health woes began while he was serving in that horrible conflict. In official documents she describes the horrific conditions that he endured that left him with multiple health problems from which he never improved. She furthermore noted the depression that he suffered from the memories of war that weighed heavily on him all the days of his life.

I suspect that many young men from both the north and the south were permanently damaged from what they saw. There is never anything easy about being on a battlefield and the trauma of being a soldier must have been doubly compounded by the reality that the men were sometimes fighting their brothers and neighbors. I can’t even begin to imagine how horrible the four years were during which the very life of our country was under siege. Surely the differences that divided the citizens might have been settled in less extreme ways. In retrospect it is quite clear that the fighting was foolhardy and immensely hurtful to everyone but at the time there were far too many who harbored so much anger that they were unable to engage in rational negotiations. A complete and total severing of relationships appeared to be the only feasible path. Four years later the flower of youth in both north and south had been decimated by the rancor.

I’d like to think that we have learned a powerful lesson from that terrible war, but of late I have begun to worry that perhaps we no longer remember the price that people paid in refusing to settle differences. My grandfather was one of the lucky ones who lived through the battles but his body and his mind were both with riddled pain from what he witnessed. I suspect that if he were able to speak to us today he would warn us to beware of the unwillingness to compromise in our political leanings. In the end he found a modicum of peace only by living a rather isolated existence in the middle of a great forest as far away from any possible conflict as he was able to be.

Civil wars always take an immeasurable human toll. Right now there are so many places on earth where people from the same country are fighting with one another over ideologies, some of which are political and some religious. Innocents who only wish to be left alone have lost their homes, their possessions and their lives. In Iraq ISIS continues its reign of terror but even more terrible is the fact that people are often also victims of the infighting between Kurds and Muslims, Sunis and Shias, everyone and Christians. Nobody trusts anybody. Even watching a family walk innocently down the street is cause for fear lest any one of the members, including women and children, be a suicide bomber. Life has become hell for people in cities like Mosul which has become a place of ruin and fear 

Syria is has its own form of hell that has sent millions fleeing for safety. Sadly even in the refugee camps there is quibbling between are from different religious sects. Christians have had to flee from the sometimes gross mistreatment from their fellow refugees and many of them have been forced to live in the open in the mountains, homeless and frightened. The situations in these war torn areas are so complex that there are not simple answers.It saddens me to think of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man, and I simply cannot understand how things become so inconsolable between people that they feel that hurting one another is the only answer.

There is far too much animosity brewing in the world at this moment and our own country is becoming more and more divided by the day. It is disheartening and frightening. I hear people speaking of riots, violence, coups and martial law. Such mutterings make me wonder if we are dangerously close to another civil war.

Fear all too often leads to anger and unrelenting anger begets hate. I worry that we are whipping ourselves into a frenzy. Even our leaders are boasting that they will never work with one another. It is as though they actually want us to break apart. They almost appear to delight in the battles. Mostly though what bothers me is the behavior that I see among the regular citizens who have become so enraged that they have lost sight of civility. Friends stand at odds with friends. Families are choosing up sides. There is an ever growing tension that is frightening. 

I posted an article on Facebook last week hoping to prompt some discussion of ideas. To say that the resulting commentary was lively is an understatement. I finally ended the back and forth by noting that in spite of the many different schools of thought, some of which were very different from my own, I still love everyone who contributed to the conversation. I find myself asking when we Americans became so loathe to allow differences of opinion. I wonder why we seem no longer able to learn from one another. When did we begin the practice of summarily dismissing anyone who dares to suggest an idea unaligned with our own?

I have observed multiple instances of friends and relatives reaching a point of no return in their relationships over discussions that grew unnecessarily dark and angry. Is this the way a civil rupture begins? Are we seeing the first bubbles in the bottom of a heated argument that will ultimately grow into a rolling boil? Why are we even risking the possibility of tearing our country apart? Why can’t we find a way to get along and why is there nobody willing to take the lead in doing it?

The media isn’t helping. In fact they seem to be almost unable to contain their glee over the excitement that is percolating. Our president isn’t making a move to bring us together. In fact he is stirring the pot, bragging about how great his ideas are and refusing to admit to mistakes or apologize for unfair insults. The democrats are little better in refusing to work with their republican peers and inciting even more anger. Everyone is boasting that they are going to fight. To what desirable end can all of this lead? As far as I can see it is only causing a rent in the fabric of our nation that will be difficult if impossible to mend. We have been this way before in our history and the outcome was not good. What would make any of us think that refusing to work together is going to solve any of the problems? Are our leaders so worried about being elected that they would rather tear our country apart than have the courage to bring it together again?

Yes. I am very worried. We do have many problems and there may even come a time but the ways in which our leaders are approaching them is very destructive. Those of us who are ordinary citizens will ultimately all be hurt and even more so if we turn on one another. I think that we all need to look into our hearts and find the will to be an example for our leaders who seem to have lost their way. They will ultimately bend to our will if enough of us join hands and let them know that we have want a government that strives to work together, not one based on gridlock and anger. We can start a movement by shoring up those relationships with our friends, and neighbors and kin with whom we may have disagreed in the past. We must begin to respect one another again and save our righteous indignation for the truly evil. Hate only leads to more hate. It is in love and forgiveness that we will find the safety and comfort that we all wish to enjoy.

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