Remarks as prepared for delivery by Sutherland Institute President Boyd Matheson for the One Utah: Rally for Unity event Aug. 14 at the Utah State Capitol:
In times like these it is important to remember that sadly, there have always been times like these. Hate has always been the driving force in the destruction of communities, societies and nations. The societies that survive and succeed are those that call out hate wherever they see it, then transcend it with overwhelming goodness, kindness and understanding. Hate in all its forms – including contempt, prejudice and even petty social media slurs – leads to the places and spaces where fear and frustration foment into rage and violence. Every American must call out hate for what it is – and work to elevate our dialogue.
We have fought two wars over the very issues the hate-filled neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Virginia brought to a head this past weekend. The Civil War and World War II were driven by the same morally bankrupt idea of superiority.
It was not an accident that a very important phrase was inserted into the Declaration of Independence – a document designed to simply list all of the grievances the colonists had against the king – the phrase that “all men are created equal.” We have been engaged in the conflict to bring our behavior up to our ideals ever since.
Over the past few days, there have been countless hours of coverage and analysis of the events, the response to the events and the coverage of the response to the events. There has been an abundance of shoulder-shrugging, and not much shoulder-squaring … as if there is nothing we can do. I think we can positively affirm that everyone is upset, frustrated and angry. But anger is a secondary emotion and often keeps us from the conversations we must have as a nation.
In order to move forward, we must get comfortable having uncomfortable conversations … about our past, about our current challenges, and most importantly, about the future of America. Joe Klein wrote, “Cynicism is what passes for insight among the mediocre.” For America to remain extraordinary, we must have enough courage to be vulnerable in our opinions and enough character to become a valuable voice in the healing of our nation.
No one who plants thistles in the spring expects to harvest fruit in the fall. So don’t think for a minute that those who perpetually plant hate are expecting to reap love and kindness later.
It is also important to note that when we plant a little, we often get a lot in return. (Any of you who plant zucchini in Utah know this.) Plant some seeds of hate, intolerance and bigotry, and you will reap more bushels of it than a community or country can even begin to deal with.
We really have a contempt problem more than we have a political polarization problem in America. Contempt is the belief in the utter worthlessness of another individual. And when we plant contempt, we reap the justification to treat another like trash personally while verbally destroying them digitally.
What is the cure for our contempt? How do we move forward as a nation? It is to stop shrugging our shoulders with an “it’s not my problem” attitude. It is time to square our shoulders, meet our rendezvous with destiny and play our role in freedom’s history.
It is interesting to note that a young Abraham Lincoln was concerned that the “field of glory” had been harvested by our Founding Fathers, and all that was left to his generation were “modest ambitions.” In 1850, as eloquently stated by Doris Kearns Goodwin, “the wheel of history turned.” Lincoln would not only save, but also improve, the democracy established by Washington, Jefferson and Adams. He did so by advocating on principle, amid overwhelming disagreement.
Today, we are no less active players in a history being written in real time. And as active participants, we have choices to make.
At times such as this we often quote great leaders like Lincoln and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We need to stop just talking about them, and start acting like them.
What can you do?
Act on these questions:
What am I sending out in my words and rhetoric?
Am I reaching out in positive ways?
Do I treat those different from me with respect and kindness?
Am I engaged in elevated dialogue?
Do I listen with an open heart and mind?
Will I admit when I am wrong?
If we all would act on one of those questions – TODAY – we would begin to heal wounds in our families, neighborhoods and nation. Government is not, cannot and should not be big enough to solve these issues. We must square our shoulders and do it together.
We often, and rightly, say with gratitude that we stand on the shoulders of the giants who have gone before us in our country and community. We should remember that the only reason we can stand on their shoulders is because they were willing to square them.
The color, size or strength of our shoulders does not matter. What matters is that we are willing to square them and work as one to lift this nation toward the fulfillment of our national motto – E pluribus unum – out of many – one!