Imagine sitting in a theater, the lights dim and an actor walks to the center of the stage carrying both a Trump and Biden sign. They stop, face the audience and begin a soliloquy: “To be or not to be healed, that is the question.”
That, of course, is the question in this time of deep political and cultural tribal division and anger. Part of belonging to a tribe is to cheer for our team, our side and jeer at our opponents. As a University of Michigan alumnus, I watch every fall the Michigan and Ohio State football game, and between snacks and drinks, raise my arm and fist every time Michigan wins and boo and hiss every time Ohio State wins. Once when I was in a Boston bar watching the Bruins in a hockey playoff game, a fan for the opposing team was almost chased out of the bar. Such rabid partisanship seems to be part of our tribal DNA.
But it is one thing to rabidly root for a sports team and another for a presidential candidate. The difference is that once the game is over we return to our normal selves and lives. But now, it seems, that the presidential contest is over, as a nation some cannot return to not feeling deep disappointment, anger, even rage, at the winner and his supporters, who seem to dance in contempt of the loser and his supporters.
The consequence is that for us to become a country united as one, not one that is in an ideological civil war, we must heal. To heal, of course, does not mean that we all must agree on issues, but that we must respect the views of others as we do our own. So how do we heal? Although there are many paths to healing, here is a path not usually mentioned or thought about.
Humility. It is for us, both winners and losers, to have humility. Humility? To bow down, think ourselves nothing? No, true humility means for us to think modestly of ourselves, of our own importance. To be superior is prized in our culture: to have a better education, a better job, more money, a bigger house, more expensive cars means that we are better, winners, superior to those who have less, losers, who are inferior to us. This is pride, pride of the self, the ego, of the tribe. False pride.
Humility means that we understand that we all have flaws and strengths, failures and successes. Humility recognizes the part that fortune and luck play in all of our lives. We did not choose our biological gifts or flaws, our family, our country, our time of birth, our race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation. We believe the myth that winning is through effort only, losing through not trying hard enough. Yet we did not choose the breaks that put us in the right place at the right time.
And we know that people do not choose to die of cancer or COVID-19. So how does recognizing this, that we are all equal in our humanity, that this humility connects us all, help us to heal as a nation? It means that those who support President-Elect Biden should not crow or think themselves superior to those who support President Trump, and that those who support the p;resident should not jeer at or hate those who support the president-elect. It means that while we recognize our political differences, we also recognize that we are all equally human, sometimes joyful, sometimes sad, thus that we should respect and care for all, not only those of our own tribe, but for all in our common happiness and grief, our gains and losses, our lives and deaths.
Gratitude is part of humility. Gratitude expands our awareness of how much we owe to others for our flourishing and well being. Not only to our families and friends, but to those who grow our food, serve us coffee, deliver our mail, repair our cars, drive our busses. Gratitude expands to the smiles of neighbors that contribute to our happiness. Even more, we have gratitude for living in a country that gives us freedom of conscience, freedom to express our beliefs and freedom to select our leaders, local, state and national. Our gratitude must, then, include all who live in this nation, all who contribute to its greatness.
“To heal or not to heal, that is the question.” A question that we must answer with a common, unified “Yes!”
Jack Hernandez is a retired director of the Norman Levan Center of the Humanities at Bakersfield College.