This New Year, with everything going on—the Newtown tragedy and ensuing gun violence debate, the “fiscal cliff”, the historic Presidential inauguration coinciding with the anniversaries of Dr King’s March and the Emancipation Proclamation, looming immigration reform, to name a few-- it took me some time to come up with a New Year’s Resolution which could last more than a month or two, a dilemma echoed in the pop song by the group Fun, “Some Nights” I wonder : “What do I stand for? What do I stand for?”
And then I read:
“When we can come together, when we cooperate, when we put aside petty differences, the results are astounding.” From Fareed Zakarias’ 2012 Harvard Commencement address entitled: “We live in an age of progress.” http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2012/05/text-of-fareed-zakarias-commencement-address/
And I was reminded that it is all too easy to focus on the things which divide us however when one views the great progress we are making, both in this county and in the world (as outlined beautifully in the address highlighted above, which I encourage you to read in its entirety), it is absolutely awe-inspiring, and this progress is largely the result of ever increasing levels of unity and cooperation between all peoples. In this country, in just the past 3 months, we have witnessed and are witnessing the most diverse group of people in history coming together to elect a President, people coming together from all backgrounds for the first time ever to discuss reasonable means to reduce gun and other forms of violence in our society, and the diverse and bi-partisan efforts to effect a comprehensive immigration reform which will enable 11 million immigrants to emerge from the shadows and join other Americans—all of these advances in spite of big money interests spending hundreds of millions attempting to block these efforts.
So my pledge and resolution this year, and hopefully for the years to come, is to learn more about cooperation and how to apply it to all aspects of my life and my interaction with family, neighbors, community, colleagues, elected officials, public servants, and especially with those whose opinions and actions I disagree with—and to better learn how to compromise. That is a challenge but it is the only way that we can ever move ahead and get anything accomplished, and is really a centerpiece of democracy. Refusing to cooperate and compromise leads to extremism, and while it may be ok to hold extreme or passionate beliefs (as I do), one cannot impose those beliefs on others. That is dictatorship or theocracy, which means that one considers himself above others, when clearly everyone’s point of view and contribution has some value and is part of the overall “truth” and solution. Those who refuse to cooperate and compromise together exclude themselves from the process of growth, as described in the old activist adage: “If you don’t come to the table then you will end up on the menu”.
Some examples of applying this principle of cooperation and compromise to controversial issues of today include:
1) Fiscal policies, debt, and the economy: A cooperative or compromise solution would reduce the great disparities between the rich and poor and provide a safety net for the chronically poor while also reducing inordinate spending. Extremist positions would be to just allow the free market economy to solve this and let people sink or swim, or to make everyone equal economically.
2) Gun Violence: A compromise solution would allow people to have certain guns for self protection at home and for sport, and to ban or strongly regulate others, with universal background checks. Extremist positions would be to maintain the status quo and do nothing regarding gun control, or to ban all guns.
3) Immigration Reform: A compromise solution includes border security and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who have earned it, while extremist positions would be to deport all undocumented immigrants or have completely open borders.
Again, as Zakarias put it, “When we can come together, when we cooperate, when we put aside petty differences, the results are astounding.”
So I invite you to investigate and practice cooperation and compromise with me. (Here is a link to an excellent school lesson defining cooperation: http://www.k12.hi.us/~mkunimit/cooperation.htm .)
In future articles I will look more closely at cooperation in action, through cooperatives, which are and have been an essential part of American society from its beginning, and other applications of these important principles.