I've been watching sadly but with interest the amount of anger and vitriolic language going on in social media spheres. I had my moments in the week after the election to do some of that same venting. It’s a stage of grief - anger. But anyone who has been through grief counseling knows that it isn’t and shouldn’t be the emotion we get stuck in when suffering a loss which, I believe, this election is for most of us.
We chose one tenet of our Unitarian Universalist values to be first among seven life-guiding principles. We even have shorthand for it — “The first principle”. We all know it by heart and don’t even have to look at our cheat sheets to say it. “We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association covenant to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person.”
It is indeed important.
In the Coming of Age program with our high schoolers, we take a trip to Target to buy and then package as holiday gifts items prisoners in Concord need. We talk to the youth about our first principle at length. How we need to reach out to those who we might not understand and whose actions we disagree with but who have inherent worth and dignity nonetheless. When we say “Every” person, we mean “Every. Person.”
I wonder then, If we can do this with convicted criminals, why can’t we have this same attitude with those who vote differently from us?
We show great respect to those who we feel need our help and sympathy, and to those who share our values but not so much with those we disagree with on politics. We dismiss them. We shut them down. We lecture. We judge.
These are our neighbors I’m talking about not the politicians. People who live and work in the same community as us. Whose kids sit in classrooms with our kids. Who help friends and family in need. Who volunteer in their towns. Who lie awake at night worrying about making the rent or the mortgage. Whose parents age and fail and whose hearts are as broken as ours when their loved ones die.
I feel that we, as Unitarian Universalists, are uniquely qualified and experienced to lead a respectful discussion of differences because of our first principle. It is what is needed most in this atmosphere of anger and fear.
This does not mean that we accept actions of prejudice, misogyny, religious persecution, homophobia, and inhumane treatment of the poor and the handicapped.
But we are never going to understand why our neighbors feel the way they do and what compels them to vote different from us if we keep yelling at them. This only creates more of the Us/Them mentality that is destroying the country both liberals AND conservatives love so much.
I’ve always believed that we can change the world one person at a time by forming relationships of mutual respect and open conversation with people in our lives. I’m not saying it’s always easy. It isn’t. I have tried and failed with an extended family member.
We have work to do after this election but we also have lessons to learn. We have to stand up to injustice and hateful actions. Our principles matter. But we also have to have respectful conversations with those who are not in agreement with our political dreams for the country. Only then can we begin to close the widening chasm.
The Pollard library in downtown Lowell is hosting a discussion on Saturday at 9:30am about how to start these conversations. If you’d like to join me, please reach out.
I light the chalice today for the work we have ahead of us and our first principle that will light our way.