Dividing, by George!

… the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in governments of a monarchical cast, patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.

— from George Washington’s farewell address, 1796

We’re there, aren’t we, consumed by partisan fire, not heated up from it? Our first president’s prognosticatory warning has come true.

Study of the Founding Father’s thoughts and structure of the US Constitution indicate that some of the mechanics, like the Electoral College and the (now defunct) appointing of Senators to their position were designed to buffer our government by shielding our leaders from partisan whim, and in the end, our country, from democratic collapse via irreconcilable division. But, it didn’t work. The Electoral College was co-opted almost immediately and is viewed as a suspect tool to subvert the electorate. And Senate seats, while buffered federally, were not buffered at the state level. Infighting there led to multiple seats unfilled and so direct election via Amendment 17 came about a hundred years or so ago.

Now, the media, especially the internet, coupled to our naturally occurring partisan views have created division that’s literally killing us. The media chooses what we look at and picks sides, amplifies the parts and spreads the flames, all in the interest of a free press. Whoever thought that we’d be free to destroy our own freedom? It appears the Founding Fathers knew that, but that we have forgotten. Will we suffer the fate of every democracy before us in rancorous debate, at first, and uncivil collapse at the end?

Z0009 (and its applications in Pro-Love, Lookin Good and A Revelation) offers a solution: that there is a larger view that encompasses both sides. I personally am trying to practice it in my life. At work, we recently had a dressing-down in class where our trainer-in-training lectured us on our complete and total lack of respect. Her dressing down sounded like an angry school marm chewing out first graders; it was perhaps the most disrespectful lecture (on being disrespectful!) that I remember. Indeed, that moment convinced me it’s time to look for a better company to work for.

What was needed on my part? Compassion for this lecturer and an attempt at understanding her point of view. Even though her message was marred by her presentation and even though I tuned much of it out due to my own heartfelt point of view, I can not only see her points, but appreciate her as a fellow human being dealing with a work situation that isn’t easy. Pro-???? is greater than Respectful Disrespect and Disrespectful Respect however they might combine. And which one was I? Disrespecting the Disrespector was no solution. I have much to learn and more to do; I’m not even sure how to frame the two sides here (the parts in partisan) let alone the encompassing view…

Cousin Mary recently heard this story of mine:

Back in 1980, before the Wall came down, I was an undergraduate at Stanford studying at the Berlin overseas campus. German was one of the few classes I got a “C” in and by the end of my first weekend there it was clear the low grade was well deserved. What to do?

I went downtown on Monday with a clever plot. I’d ask random (well, as long as they were a cute guy) people directions to a random place. Bachelor #3 spoke with such a heavy accent, he gave up trying to edumacate me and decided to take me there instead.  On the way he asked, “Why would you wanna go there?” I didn’t wanna. “How about a Lederbar, instead?” Sure! I didn’t know what a Lederbar was but it sounded better than the Hoofenpoofen I had asked directions to. By morning, I had a new boyfriend. And I learned a wee bit about Leder, too ;@)

Those were the days!

Turns out Rolf had been given passage to the West from a prison for homosexuals from the East. I didn’t know homosexuality could be a prisonable offence (here in the States we just put homos in mental institutions, at least in my family) but it was and such badboys could be imprisoned in the East and then “bought” and brought to the West, as he was. (How many divisions so far? East/West, Homo/Not Homo, Imprisoned/Free, German/English…) But, Rolf couldn’t go back and couldn’t visit or see again his family in Leipzig. But I could.

While on a GDR-sanctioned trip, a friend and I ditched the Intourist-led presentation in Leipzig and snuck over to Rolf’s family’s residence. A tiny, crowded apartment. It was so small, that half of us had to squeeze into one side the living room, manhandle the table onto our laps,  and then the other gang could scootch in and then lower the table between us.

I had never met Communists before. I only knew they were inferior and evil. They had never met Capitalists before. (Add dividing by Commie/Bourgeois to our partisan list) They only knew we were bad, too. I had already seen a couple of Evil Capitalist movies on commie-tv myself (also a few German-subtitled Russian “Boy Meets Tractor” movies). We stared at each other making icy accusations. But the stout Czechoslovakian Budweiser beer (nothing like ours) loosened things up and then I blurted out to the hubby of Rolf’s older sister, “Why do you have long hair? I thought long hair was illegal in Communist countries?” He laughed, “I play in a rock band, of course I have long hair!” I was stunned, “You are allowed rock music? And bands?” They laughed. The beer and my big mouth broke the ice.

Turns out they weren’t Communists and I wasn’t a Capitalist. The youngest daughter was in some Communist-led Girl Scout-like troop, who preached at us like stern teenagers can do and they teased her about her right-wing (or is it left?) views. We had the best time telling stories. Grandma managed to put the receiver part of the phone swapped with the transmitter part for 30 years in her gain-less employment at the phone company. We hate or are at least frustrated with and baffled by our governments, we like getting away with being bad from time to time, we agree work sucks, we like making music and making love, we believe it’s fun to drink to a degree, agree family is important, think most people are decent, think some coworkers are irritating and so on.

I’ve never forgotten the message of that table: once we get past the bullshit, we’re not all that different. 

I was at the grocery store tonight and happily said “hi” to Dylan, who remarked it had been a while since he’d seen Steven and I. “You’re right!” I said. I said “Bye” to Jeffrey, who said it was a horrible day there. Turns out a bunch of people didn’t show up. Dylan, the manager, sauntered back to the Deli where he was gonna get out the custodial supplies and sub for that missing person, and I found out the flower lady was doubling in the Deli where Dylan was mopping. Alex let me know where they’d moved the Hatch Green Chili (we’re having a Band potluck this weekend … Mexican food, yum!) and I let Emma go ahead in line when I checked out; she really wanted to go home. Who hasn’t sacrificed at work and for each other? Who hasn’t had a long, rough day? Who hasn’t wished they didn’t have to work for a living? Who isn’t tired of our leaders sounding like screeching parrots? Who hasn’t screeched like a parrot? We’re all real people. But we’re just people, here for a little while. You and I are gonna die and why ruin the day in case that day is today?

I was at the same grocery store a while back with a guy who was taken aback as I bounced from person to person, giving hugs to my favorite cashiers. He said he thought that was crazy. And I rudely retorted, “Well, you’re the one without any friends except for me and you’re the one who is so lonely.” Yeah, I forget my own message. Everybody should be welcome at the table, even if we have to keep the squabbling children apart and keep our own mouths shut at times. Other times, we need to speak up and speak the truth. The truth is our planet’s living room isn’t really all that big. Just a rock hurtling through space. When are we gonna start treating it like the lifeboat that it is? And each other like the conscious beings we are? When will we all be welcome at the table and squeeze together to make room?

I’ve not forgotten the message of that Leipzig living room. It’s time to live it.

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