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Considering the state of the political divide of today it is easy for many, including millennials, to feel disheartened. We have had equally bad or worse divisions in the past and have persevered and prospered. From the conflict resulting in the Civil War (undeniably the worst division in our history) to the fight for voting rights for women and divisions over the war in Vietnam, civil rights and political corruption, we have surely seen discord.

The electronic media have made the divisiveness of today unique. Our internet-based instantaneous communication tools expose us to fake news and to foreign instigations more than in the past, and extremists from ISIS to neo-Nazis can reach the vulnerable and impressionable with ease.

Legendary newscaster Dan Rather has co-authored a timely book, a collection of essays titled “What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism.” Rather at the age of 86 is becoming popular with the younger generation thanks to his positive message reflecting an elder who remains optimistic about America.

We still have to remind our youths America is a human experiment that has never been tried. The Constitution was written to allay many sources of abuse, government tyranny, religious persecution and provide justice and liberty for all. These ideals are admired by free-thinking people around the world.

An immigrant friend once told me when he immigrated to the United States he felt he had come home. He felt “he had been born an American in another part of the world.” He explained in his native country there was no separation of church and state, people felt they worked for the government instead of the other way around and the media was an instrument of the dictators. Like many thoughtful individuals around the globe, he had dreamed of a society where one could feel equal and without fear, in short dreaming of a country with a constitution like ours. Short of bringing all freedom-loving people to America, we must remain true to our ideals and know we are watched and there are many who wish for this experiment to succeed. We are not perfect and can continue to improve, but what we have is the intrinsic wish of many.

Rather talks about a lack of compassion evident among the well-to-do Americans, who fault the economically disadvantaged for their hardship. He also emphasizes the problem of a void in empathy for those who are excluded from prosperity and complains true integration remains elusive.

Empathy often has to be taught to young children. Sometimes, empathy comes with age when we experience hardships and learn to empathize with someone else who is also experiencing hardship. School bullies show a lack of empathy, and we also see adults who cannot appreciate the meaning of empathy. Actor and former NFL great Jim Brown, speaking of his civil rights activism, once said every morning when he woke up the first thing he remembered was that he was black in a white society. It would be hard to empathize with such a feeling if one has not been in such situation. If a community feels more of their youths are being shot by police and initiates protests, the general reaction is to analyze the economic and societal reasons behind the shootings rather than trying to empathize with the feeling of that community and then seek solutions.

Rather’s book is most topical at a time when divisions are deep and optimism is in decline. He emphasizes our values and virtues and is strong on optimism and a belief the middle still can hold the balance and handle the extremes.

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Lou Honary is a retired professor and researcher at the University of Northern Iowa.


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