A book of sermons under the title “On Being Fit to Live With” was issued right after World War II. The book’s thesis was that the task then at hand after winning the war was winning the peace.
That, the preacher said, was going to call for a people previously at war to learn how to get along. That is precisely our need now.
If there is to be any healing of the deep divides that threaten our national stability, we have to figure out once more how to get along with each other. Democracy does not require that we agree with one another, but it does require that we be fit to live with.
The best place to begin the work of being fit to live with is with ourselves. Our problem is a moral one before it is a political one.
The stunning and disheartening lack of results toward harmony show the futility of looking to Washington, D.C. or to Madison to solve our problems. We individual Americans, not just the politicians we send to represent us in government, have to be the ones fit to live with.
If we want to see change in our state or in our nation, we have to embody the change we wish to see, beginning with a change in demeanor. The words of that once-popular song apply — “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”
So, then, how can we disagree without becoming disagreeable? For one thing, widespread confession would be good for the soul of the nation and of the state.
A toxic, disagreeable person difficult to live with puts the blame for all troubles elsewhere than on himself or herself. A helpful antidote that can neutralize the acids of toxic volatility is admitting to one’s own share in the problems that prevail.
A simplistic, but genuine form of this attitude of confession comes from my wife’s old Sunday school teacher whom my wife recalls saying, “remember, when I point a finger at you, I am pointing three back at myself.”
Each one of us, I think, can point those fingers at ourselves. We can find areas, for example, where we formed opinions, passed judgments or rendered indictments without benefit of facts, reading, or research.
If we consider ourselves Ds we have on occasion lumped all Rs together as if all were the same. The Rs have done much the same with regard to the Ds. To admit that we ourselves each bear some burden for the toxic atmosphere that now afflicts our society is to take a step toward being fit to live with once more
Practicing the art of forgiveness is another important step we can take toward becoming less disagreeable. Make no mistake about it. Practicing forgiveness is hard.
That is something those of us who profess to be Christians ought to know well, for Christianity places a cross at the center of forgiveness. We have different ways of explaining what that means, but at heart it implies forgiveness is something painful, costly and not arrived at lightly. There is no superficial path to it.
Forgiveness is not a matter of forgetting. It is not glossing over something as though it never happened. It is not moving on as if there had been no injury.
To forgive is to bear the pain of one’s wounds, acknowledging their reality and their depth, but at the same time not letting what was wounding yesterday be a determining factor today in shaping one’s assessments and judgments concerning the one who did the wounding. Everything about practicing this art of forgiveness is tremendously difficult, but there are people walking in our midst who show it is possible because they have done it.
A third way to be less disagreeable is to take the way of compromise.
The tree that snaps in a storm is the one that refuses to bend. Those that survive the storm continue to stand their ground but bend a little in relation to the wind.
People who are fit to live with do likewise. They bend in a spirit of compromise.
Compromise openly asks for the most one desires. It stands its ground but does not insist upon its own way. Yet without trimming its principles, it accepts less than it fully desires so that another can have significant bits of what he or she desires.
In the end, while no one gets everything they want, everyone gets something they want, and that something is sufficient enough to leave them feeling happy and successful.
We can wish the politicians in Washington and Madison would get along with one another better than they do, but the matter resides with us, too. We individual Americans need to become fit to live with again.
Moral change within can lead to political change without.