Repairing Our Social Fabric
I write this before Election Day with the expectation it will be published the day after. I’m not going to assume anything about the election results, although I’m betting everyone is glad to have this campaign season end.
This year’s election has stretched our country in ways that feel very harmful. As a citizen and public servant, I worry about fissures having surfaced and what they mean for our future. How do we move forward when we feel so far apart?
I’ve been thinking a lot this year about trying to identify what can hold us together today as well as through the 21st Century? What can make all Americans believe in a common United States? What are the values and goals which will bond North Carolinians through the coming decades?
Earlier this year, my Hillsborough friend, Steven Burke, asked me to reflect on the meaning of the word commonweal. This old English word refers to the “happiness, health, and safety of all the people of a community or nation” and is the root of the more recognizable word commonwealth.
After this election cycle, do we even believe in a commonweal? How would we define it? What are the things which can make everyone here happy, healthy and safe?
To be honest, I have a hard time answering this question myself without falling into partisan beliefs. Do you also? After this election, I plan to ask two people with different political perspectives than mine to have lunch. Over lunch, I want to see where we can find some simple, local ideas for rebuilding our commonweal.
The first of those two people will be a colleague in the NC House. (Again, no assumptions about the election. I’ll do this even if he or I lose.) I’m thinking of a member who, like me, is young enough to contribute to North Carolina for a couple of more decades. Someone whom I’d want to work with no matter whether we were in the legislature or not.
I’d like to spend a day with him. I’d like to see his county, talk with his constituents, and understand how and why he makes decisions the way he does. Maybe it’s his faith, his life experiences or where he currently lives helping him arrive at decisions he fully stands behind. I want to listen, ask questions, and let the things challenging me settle into a place where I can understand them even if they’re not reflective of my lived experience.
In the same vein, I want to share with him also how my faith, family, and life influence me and why I feel the need to lean a certain way in support of what I believe is right for my family, my community and the State of North Carolina. I also want him to know regardless of where we both stand—we both can serve our State alongside each other and for each other.
The second person I’d like to have lunch with is someone in my district who did not vote for me. Send me an email telling me why you’d like to engage in the type of conversation I’m describing here. I’ll reply to all emails, pick one person, pay for lunch, and report back here early next year.
During this year’s election cycle, I’ve had to turn off the news on any number of occasions. The non-stop exploitation of our differences is exhausting. Usually, I turn on music instead. I’ve been listening to the musical Hamilton regularly because it gives me some hope.
As the election winds to a close, I’ve been thinking about a line in the show where George Washington says to Alexander Hamilton, “Winning is easy young man. Governing’s harder.” The election has torn at our social fabric and at our faith in a functional commonweal of shared values and goals. It’s time for public servants and everyday citizens to stitch it back together again, no matter how hard the task and thinking.
I hope you’ll join me. Let’s restart the commonweal with lunch.
This column was originally published by the News of Orange on November 9, 2016.