“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” Abraham Lincoln
These words were spoken by Lincoln in his first Inaugural Address on March 4th, 1861. In just over one month, the Civil War would begin. The country would be torn apart. Four years of intense combat would follow, with 620,000 to 750,000 people being killed. Neighbors would fight neighbors, brothers would kill brothers, Americans would destroy other Americans.
Though it would take years, America did reunite and heal from the Civil War. Our common goals and purposes became more important than our differences. Divisive labels lost their meaning. Our forefather’s wonderful experiment of Democracy thrived once again.
While the most dramatic, the Civil War wasn’t the only time our country and our people have been divided. We have had other times of separation, times when the distinctions between “us” and “them” seemed clear. We have had other times when our goals, our cultures and our purposes were at odds.
I believe we are in such a time now. The divide between Republican and Democrat, liberal and conservative, right wing and left wing has consistently widened. It seems to me that we’ve lost our ability to disagree with civility and remain neighbors and friends after the discussion. Like many, I have felt a deep concern about where we are heading.
Recently, however, I have been reading “The Soul of America” by Jon Meacham and feeling more hopeful because of it. In this book, released May, 2018, Meacham provides a historical perspective for our current social climate. He points out that we have seen many times of strife, but that each was followed by healing and even strengthening of our country. He notes that our Democratic form of government serves to facilitate such healing. I really appreciate his hopeful perspective.
On the first day of his presidency, Lincoln appealed, “We must not be enemies.” But, it’s up to us. We have to begin by listening to each other with respect and calm. We must remember that our differences are far outweighed by our similarities. We have to look for common ground. Those on the “other side” are, after all, our neighbors. In this time, we can work together for the common good, but to do so, we must depend on “the better angels of our nature.