The past few weeks have been challenging for our country and for our citizens. Last week's protest in Washington began as peaceful but devolved into violence within the walls of our nation's Capitol. This occurred while the legislatures were meeting to accept the Electoral College results from the states. This was frightening and unacceptable.
We feel as though we are a nation under siege from ourselves. We are bitterly divided, torn and unsure of how to move forward. Many on both sides do not want to move forward but to blame the other side. Can we move past our political polarization and improve our country by working together? Yes, we can, but it will take real work and a shift from a mindset of judgment and certainty to another marked by listening and learning.
This coming Monday, we will celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech on Aug. 28, 1963, from in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. 1963 marked 100 years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. About 250,000 people gathered that day: black and white, young and old, Northerners and Southerners, to be a part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. While he addressed the challenges of the day, he spoke about his visions of our future together, drawing on well-known Bible passages to communicate his message:
"Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends. And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. ... I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. ... that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: 'Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'"
His message was inclusive, creating a vision of a better future that could be achieved if we worked together. We are challenged again today to take to heart and reach for his vision of a brighter future together as Americans.
The best way to do this is through community -- not a social media community, but a real community made up of real people. "Let's challenge ourselves to reach out, not over Twitter or Facebook, but in our communities, to one another, not to point fingers and blame, but to join hands and help," I wrote in my book "Our Broken America: Why Both Sides Need to Stop Ranting and Start Listening."
While it's easy to feel outraged and to blame others, and it may make us feel better and even feel superior to others, outrage does not lead to action that creates hope. We need positive, hopeful action which spurs even more action and is contagious to others. Just as outrage is easily spread to others, so too is hope. You get to decide every day where you focus your energies and what your impact on others will be at the end of the day. You can choose to harbor hope or outrage within you.
As I wrote in my book: "Go out into your neighborhood, find a problem to solve with someone else, and then share the solution with others. What we do know is that we can't simply sit back and scream until something gets done. We have to get up and take action to achieve solutions ourselves. Together, we can stop ranting and raving, and bridge the great division within our country."
I believe that our country is the greatest in the world. I also believe that, to achieve our potential, we must encourage and assist every citizen to do their part to make their community better, stronger and more resilient. Neither party can do this alone; we must stop saying platitudes about unity and instead reach out to those whose beliefs differ from our own and work with them to improve our country together.
While it might be easier to stay within our own echo chambers, it only magnifies that gap in understanding, leading us to believe that we are right and the other side is wrong. Arguing does not bring about understanding; but working towards something better together will create and strengthen the ties that bind us together as a nation.