America needs a substantial change in the relationship between its citizens. We need to see a new understanding between rural and urban Americans, between those who are immersed in a world of multiple cultures, races and religions, and those who are in worlds that are primarily Christian, rural, Protestant, and white. The lack of connection and lack of compassionate, reasonable communication between these two American worlds has been utilized by political forces in search of wedge issues to divide and to drive people to election polls out of anger and fear. The era of identity politics of all kinds, including white nationalist identity, has reached a fever pitch that needs to be reversed if we are to preserve and improve upon the foundational principles and ethical values of American democracy.
We need this change in relationship for the sake of the future of our country and for the sake of the improvement and discovery of our common values. We need a new way of dealing with our serious disagreements, an approach that is sincere and that honestly cherishes all citizens of the country. That was envisioned at least in theory when founders of the country intended “to form a more perfect union.” The dream of a more perfect union has worked out better and worse at various moments of our history, as there exists a series of moral and political successes and failings at this point in terms of democracy and human rights. Presently, there is far too much judgmental behavior, unkindness, and lack of respect standing in the way of that more perfect union.
At least part of the reason for that is that we have not understood the true source of good relations between those who are different. We have tended to emphasize methods of conflict resolution that are overly intellectual and debate-oriented.
We at CRDC have been engaged for many years now in reconciliation programs in war zones and post-war zones with victims on all sides of tragic and violent conflicts. We have tended to work with peacebuilders on all sides, and in the course of that work of solidarity, we have evolved some novel methods of peacebuilding. We have discovered through this work something that is being corroborated by contemporary science regarding that which produces less violence and destructive conflict.
The core of the discovery is that rather than dialogue and debate, it is care and compassion that break the barriers of distrust and hatred, and instead build the bonds of reconciliation. Care and compassion are turning out to be good science, a good foundation of education from experience, good ethics, and a sound basis for building a more perfect union in every country. We have seen in the field, and recent science has corroborated, that acts of compassionate service and care open the mind to completely new relationships. We have seen that it is in that context of service and care that conversations about ethics and citizenship can proceed based on shared needs and values, rather than on polarizing identity politics or racial lines. Furthermore, our research and experience has demonstrated that the social networks of those who engage in service and across lines generate fast-moving information in many directions precisely because it is so surprising. The human mind delights in surprises, including pleasant surprises that upset predisposition. Thus, successful work in conflict zones across sectarian lines has worked precisely because we brought together people of different faiths and classes who never relate to each other, and we brought them together in common care of children or the environment, or women’s needs, or problem-solving through conflict resolution training. All of these offerings of care and solidarity create new bonds and connections, and often these connections spread geographically because families and friends are related across many regions.
Visioning together, imagining a “more perfect union” has salutary effects on the mind and heart and will yield profound benefits that rise beyond sectarian and polarizing politics and toward a more ethical and politically responsible citizenship with diverse views and perspectives. CRDC in particular has a 15-year reputation for doing this kind of work successfully in the most religiously divided places in the world. The rural/urban divide in America can certainly use a deep dose of trust building and surprising gestures of care between communities of faith and practice, and that is the substance of a variety of projects encompassed at CRDC by the American Reconciliation Program.