Editorial: We Can Do Better
Our community has just come through an election cycle that saw a dramatic shift not only in who will represent us going forward, but in the way in which we chose those representatives and the way in which we behave toward each other.
History and perspective are uniquely human traits and at a time when we shout that our country, our communities, and even our families are divided, it is our ability to see things in perspective that draws us to a man who presided over what was truly the most divisive time ever in our history.
Today, Abraham Lincoln is widely regarded as the best President ever, preceded (as it turns out) by the worst President, James Buchanan. History, it seems, gives us all the perspective that we need. Fifteen and Sixteen. Worst and best. Why?
The answer to that question fills volumes already but some qualities were identified by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin that we agree we should look for in our present day leaders. Lincoln had:
The Capacity to Listen to Different Points of View
The Ability to Learn
A Ready Willingness to Share Credit for Success
A Ready Willingness to Take Blame for Failure
An Awareness of His Own Weaknesses
An Ability to Control His Emotions
The Strength to be Himself and to Adhere to his own Fundamental Beliefs
The Ability to Communicate Effectively
We would add honesty and grace. These are traits you may also recognize in giants like George Washington, John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.
In victory, Lincoln said, “With malice toward none, with charity for all, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds.”
Pettiness, the almost pathological need to be right, the easy degrading of others and off handedly insulting people are not a part of who these leaders were and they are not traits we should tolerate.
As parents, we are all mortified by bad behavior in others and we tell our children, almost universally, that “the bad behavior of others is never an excuse to behave badly yourself” and “two wrongs don’t make a right” and “if all your friends were jumping off a bridge” and on and on.
Yet somehow we see otherwise kind, amazing people behaving badly in response to bad behavior, because they believe they are right and that the ends justify the means. They don’t.
When we take on the worst traits of our opponent, we are no better than they are and here in Greenwich, we have done that. In the process, Greenwich has lost something we used to value: the certain belief that greatness is within us, that we aspire to be great.
“Peace,” said Ronald Reagan, “is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.”
“Courage,” according to Winston Churchill, “is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
Are we not a courageous community? Right now, we believe the answer might just be, no. On both sides, we can do better.
In Duluth, Minnesota, years ago, the civil discourse had become so rancorous that citizens created “The Civility Project” in an attempt to do better. It was not an attempt to end disagreements, but rather a campaign to remind people of the basic principles of respect. The City Council in Duluth, the equivalent of our RTM, passed a resolution that “recognizes nine tools of civility.”
They are: Pay Attention. Listen. Be Inclusive. Don’t Gossip. Show Respect. Look for opportunities to agree. Apologize. Give Constructive Criticism. Take Responsibility. We would add, Be Kind.
As we put this election cycle into the history books of our community, we will soon embark on another. Let us work now to raise the level of civil discourse and focus on the truth as we look to overcome the challenges that we, as a community, face together.
We are neighbors and we inhabit this small town together. Greenwich is a community filled with greatness and our citizens are now (and our children will be in the future) leaders in the world.
The example we set will have ripples that go far beyond our corner of the globe.