As I pondered about our deep ideological divisions in America, the song by Johnny Nash came to mind. What does this song have to do with divisions in America you may ask? Hang in here, it will make sense in a minute.
The opening lyrics to the song are: “I can see clearly now the rain is gone. I can see all obstacles in my way, gone are the dark clouds that had me blind.”
Then we have the chorus: “It’s gonna be a bright, bright, sunshiny day.”
Now this is why I think the song relates; the sunshiny days of getting along could be a reality for America today, but it is not. Let me be clear here. I am not trying to make a political statement folks; these are just the facts. In my esteem, we could try to get along — couldn’t we?
Must we labor under the dark clouds of our perceived differences, with no real reconciliatory cloud break in sight? Maybe we are not that far apart below the surface.
Americans fought a brutal and bloody Civil War over divisions before. I, like many other Americans, have familial roots in the Civil War. My Civil War ancestor fought for the Union at the battle of Gettysburg.
Another fact of the Civil War is it wasn’t the rich or wealthy landowners who fought that war.
No sir, and no ma’am, it was not!
It was the poor, the lower middle, and some middle class, people — people like you and me. It was people from hard-working, mainly rural, families. Did those fighting know what they were fighting for?
Historians believe some did. But many did not.
Union general, and later president, Ulysses Grant (one of the most underrated Union generals, and later U.S. President, in my humble opinion) said of the soldiers who fought for the other side: “The great bulk of them … were men …their homes were generally in the hills and poor country; their facilities for educating their children, even up to the point of reading and writing, were very limited; their interest in the contest was very meagre.”
Again, not a political statement by me, just the facts.
Speaking of facts, here are some facts from the Civil War. New studies cited by Ronald C. White in his book titled “American Ulysses” said the death toll during that ugly brutal conflict was nearly 750,000.
To put this astounding loss of life in perspective, more people died in the American Civil War than died in every single war America has been involved in from the Revolutionary War to present day.
In today’s numbers, the American dead in the Civil War would be over seven million. Think about it this way — an entire generation of young Americans were wiped out.
America has not, to this day, fully recovered from this brutal domestic war. Wow! That’s a staggering number to think about. Can you imagine what the loss of seven million people would mean today?
Let’s examine why it’s more important than ever we let the sun shine down on our perceived differences. How about we open the widows of understanding and let the fresh air of acceptance come in — what do ya say to that? Winston Churchill said, “those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
Do we have to repeat history, again and again and again, to learn from it? No! I don’t believe we do. This is a question I have been grappling with as I see the unnecessary infighting in America today.
Professor Rufus Fears, a world-renowned historian and scholar, said in a lecture series titled “The Wisdom of History” that we cannot ignore the lessons of history. If we do not learn from and embrace the lessons of history, we become reluctant stooges to their reciprocal devastation.
Now let’s be real.
All Americans will never agree on one way of looking at events, things and issues. The fact is, we will always have differences of opinion. However, we can, and must, agree to talk things out rather than fight them out. If you actually sat down with someone you perceive as being on a totally opposite ideological perspective from yours, you will find that we are really not that far apart after all (see the Robbers Cave Experiment for example). Now here is the “cookies on the bottom shelf” reality (who among us doesn’t like cookies). Unless you talk to a sociopath, which there are a few around, you will find more things in common than you ever realized. If we just take the time to talk and get to know the person, the people, the neighbor we don’t like, we might see them differently. If you endeavor to speak to them about what's important in life, not who you voted for, or your skin color, or your religion or your favorite rock band. (Oops, maybe you don’t like rock, but I think you get my drift.)
If the dark clouds of our differences are not seen for what they are, just differences, and certainly not anything to go to war over, the dark storm clouds will continue to build and we will again be repeating history. All because we did not heed the lessons of that history. As before, we will again be fighting for an ideology that is not well understood by those of us who are fighting the war. Try this instead; get to know people, ask them about their hopes, their dreams, their children, their background, their religion. Don’t take someone else’s label of someone else and make it your own.
Get to know those you differ with. I want a more peaceful world, don’t you?
General Ulysses Grant ended his first inaugural address with the words, “let us have peace.” I say amen to that, let us have peace!
Dr. Stride has been a practicing psychotherapist. He has worked in behavioral and forensic mental health for over 30 years as a counselor, clinical director and senior executive. He served eight years as a captain in the United States Army Reserve. He enjoys teaching, public speaking and prides himself on being a student of history. He is the current CEO of Cascade Community Healthcare. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.