Make A Choice [on Merely A Thought Monday]

If you still require a marker for where we’ve come in these past four years, you need only consider this: The International Crisis Group – “an organization that frequently reports on instability in failing states and war zones – warn that a bitterly polarized America faces ‘unfamiliar danger’ in these coming days.”

Instability in a failing state. War zone.

Once upon a time we were so solid in our commitment to the democratic process that the world asked us to send representatives to monitor elections in failing states. The Carter Center alone has observed elections in 39 countries in an effort to support and strengthen democracy around the world.

Once upon a time the peaceful transfer of power honoring the vote of-and-by the people was assumed. It was the epicenter of our stability. A two party system that provides for creative tension and lively debate as it wrestles its way into a more perfect union never, before now, questioned the sacred center, the magic glue of its success: the peaceful transfer of power. It gave us the authority to promote democracy, attend to human rights, and monitor elections in other nations.

And now? The world issues a warning to us. About us. The state of the United States is possibly unstable. Possibly failing.

It’s also possibly growing, evolving. Significant change is often preceded by a challenge to ideals, a stress test of boundaries. Order collapses into chaos and out of chaos, new order arises. A butterfly emerges from caterpillar mush.

In this election the American experiment could very well collapse on itself. It could also rise from the dis-ease of the past four years stronger with a better sense of what needs attention in our walk toward the promise. And, as we stand at this crossroads, the good news is that the leadership does not decide the path we take. We do.

We are the people who choose our leaders. They lead in service to us. We can join the ranks of failing states and eat ourselves like a cancer. Or, we can sober up and guard our tradition. Disagreement is the energy that drives us forward to vote; the peaceful transfer of power acknowledges that, in our hearty discord, we are servants to a higher ideal, a fluid dynamic relationship moving toward a more perfect union.

It’s our choice.

read Kerri’s blog post about VOTE

Protect Our Diversity

Many years ago, sitting in a Starbucks, my brother told me that I should be careful because not everyone wanted the diversity I was promoting. His warning struck me as odd. At the time I was partners in a business that facilitated diversity training and change dynamics. I was traveling to many places in this nation, north, south, east, west, and places in the middle, to work with people in corporations and schools and communities who’d come up against the startling reality that all people do not share the same reality, that equality is an ideal not yet realized, that we are a nation defined by our other-ness.

When I was in school I was taught that the USA was a melting pot, a hot crucible into which people of many backgrounds, creeds, and colors were transformed into something stronger. I was taught that we were a nation of immigrants. It is printed on our currency: e pluribus unum. Out of the many, one. Why, then, would I need to be careful? Diversity was not something I was promoting, it was (and is) our circumstance. It was an identity I was helping people navigate in their workplaces and communities.

I read somewhere that the real challenge of the American Experiment is that we have to reinvent ourselves everyday. Because we are not (and never have been) able to share a common ethnic-religious-origin story, we must strive everyday to create a shared story. We create our story. We were, at our inception, an experiment in other-ness. To insist that we were meant to be singular – white and Christian – is a concoction. Our shared story begins with the single common thread that runs through most of our ancestral paths: we came from some other place seeking freedom in one form or another: religious freedom, freedom from persecution, the freedom to pursue opportunities. What binds us, the single story-blanket under which we can all crawl, is our diversity. Out of the many, one.

There is and always has been a tension in our story creation. Each new wave of others is resisted and often persecuted by the previous wave. When, in a nation of diverse backgrounds, in a country made strong by its multiplicity, does one actually become an American? And, what does an American look like? And, how far are we from living the ideal of all being created equally? With liberty and justice for all? It’s a moving target at best. It is a worthy ideal and worth the struggle.

The Experiment, like all experiments, has had some miserable failures. It has taken some giant strides forward. It is riddled with paradoxes and often runs into a hard wall of hypocrisy. We’ve torn ourselves in half and pasted ourselves back together. We’ve had our share of hate-mongers and xenophobes. We have one now. And, we always transcend them because we do not run on fear or anger but on promise and opportunity. The conservative impulse is always at odds with the progressive desire. It provides the heat for the crucible. It provides the tension for creativity and growth.

The greatest centers of innovation and entrepreneurship in the history of humankind have all been crossroads, places where many cultures cross paths and come together. Difference is a great opener of eyes and minds. We are an intentional crossroads, a meeting place by design. Our make-up of differences might be the single reason why we have grown as a nation of invention, advancement, and possibility.

In one aspect my brother was right: I should be careful, we should be careful to protect and keep the ideal in the center. It is worth marching for, it is worth challenging the fear-mongering and stepping in the way of a leader who plays on anger to create division. We should be careful to honor and steward The Experiment forward to the next generation of diverse Americans.