Be More Graceful In Our Disagreements

Today is Independence Day, a day when we Americans celebrate the day the Founding Fathers shook off the shackles of English rule and declared our independence.

The Declaration of Independence is a beautiful document that argues the colonialist cause in beautiful prose. Beautiful words aside, the declaration is a written argument in favor of many of the ideals Americans have held dear since 1776.

It states nearly 30 reasons why King George III has aggrieved the colonial settlers, asserts as a matter of natural law the ability of a group of people to assume political independence while acknowledging the reasons for the group’s independence must be reasonable. It then explains the colonialists’ reasons for wanting to be free of England and states the colonialists’ course of action – a war for independence.

Of course, we won the argument … and have been arguing ever since.

Our arguments are captured in the Federalist Papers, in 238 years of Congressional debate, riotous protests in the 20th century and now are ablaze on television and on the Internet. It has become increasingly difficult to accomplish anything positive in an age in which we intractably argue our varying points of view in full public. Our society is full of heated words that are far less beautiful and far less useful than those found in the Declaration of Independence. At times, our civil discourse devolves into simple name-calling and, at others, is downright rude.

The future of a nation was at stake in 1776. The biggest difference between 1776 and 2013 is the nature of our debate. Our early American arguments resulted in a strong nation because disagreements were resolved, a compromise reached and the disagreement set aside. Despite the varied interests of our founders, they found a way to resolve those differences in a way that forged a fledgling nation from heated words.

Those engaged in civil debate in 2013 will argue the fate of a nation is still at stake – whether the debates are social issues, tax policy, spending, social programs, the role of the United States in military actions and scores of other disagreements both large and small. Our arguments have a different result now. Rather than arrive at a conclusion most people can agree with, our arguments are unresolved. We shout past each other, two ships passing in the night, with the result the very definition of gridlock.

We have been arguing so long that we’ve become entirely too good at it. We’d rather argue than solve our problems. For our nation to remain strong and to regain its former prosperity, we must have arguments that mean something. We must be more graceful in our disagreement.

It’s the best lesson we can all take from Independence Day.