Land of the Free, Home of the Pluralists

[7/7/15 ~ a reflection on The 4th of July]

I’m taking an American Literature class right now, in which I just read about the first public birth pangs of abolitionism in the US. These sparks of anti-slavery fire were accompanied by the fight for women’s suffrage, the first public demonstrations of American feminism. Abolitionism and feminism reared their heads around the same time. Many feminists had fierce abolitionist convictions as well. This is likely part of the reason why slaves were freed before women got the right to vote. Many of these strongly pro-abolition feminists were willing to lay down a dear political, social, and moral value for the sake of something they valued even more than women’s rights: human rights. They sacrificed a value close to their hearts for the achievement of another which they thought was even greater.

This sacrificing of one strongly-held individual value for a different, common one illustrates what I think I am most grateful for (at least right now, in my 22nd year living here) about the USA: Pluralism. Other fundamental values close to my heart that accompany this one are Tolerance, Compromise, Civility, Conversation. The T and three Cs. All under the umbrella of good communication. The fourth C. I’m so grateful for the fact that we are free not only to vote for the governmental candidates we think most suitable for office, but also to voice publicly our thoughts, opinions, and convictions. This is what the nation was founded on. From the start, we’ve been a motley bunch of dissenters, often passionately at odds with each other. From the start, the only way forward was compromise: some people getting some of what they wanted and others having to tolerate some of what they didn’t want. Always after deliberation and discussion.

Instead of having one man make all the decisions (alone or with counsel––a monarchy) or even having a small, elite group of individuals call the shots (an oligarchy), we have historically thrived under a plenitude of governors. Our nation was born, in part, from the desire to build and sustain a space for the diverse, disagreeing many to gather and make decisions about what would be best for the most people. We’ve wanted to not just coexist but to commune and collaborate, to flourish alongside people who believe and value different things than we do.

I love this because it’s essentially the same principle that applies to any and all human relationships––just on a massive scale. Genuine, healthy, thriving relationship requires good communication, which entails the civility to listen to different viewpoints, the willingness to engage in discussion, the honesty to disagree, and the perspective to compromise for the common good. All of these qualities could describe a good marriage, solid family bonds, or a flourishing friendship. Or the commitment to pluralism close to the heart of the USA.

Good communication does not mean adopting the ideas or values being shoved at you by others with different viewpoints––it means remaining respectful and open to conversation, even when others are not. Good communication also does not mean lashing back with the first words that come to mind when faced with people who voice different views (even different worldviews) from yours––even when they insensitively insist their views are undeniable truths. Good communication is one of the main ideas this country was founded on, but good communication is not like autopilot. If we do not deliberately endeavor to keep the pluralist faith by actively and intentionally holding ourselves to the strenuous standard of clear, caring communication, we fail to do our duty to America.

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