To watch the news one would believe that American civility is dead. Tonight’s debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will likely not change that belief. But maybe the relationship between other political rivals can. Observing their example, here are three quick ways to recapture American Civility.
1. Focus on what unites, instead of what divides.
No one would say that George Bush and Barack Obama are united on politics. Yet since President Bush left office, he has worked closely and congenially with President Obama. Saturday’s opening of the National Museum of African History and Culture was simply the most recent example. Al Drago captured Michelle Obama hugging George Bush in the above photo. Moments later George was trying to get a picture with himself in it, but not being able to frame it correctly he tapped a friend on the shoulder and asked him to take the picture. Obama happily agreed. Yes, the ruler of the free world took the phone of his former rival, said “cheese”, and snapped some photos.
I think George and Laura Bush live out their faith when they find common ground to build relationship. Laura and the Bush girls gave Michelle and her daughters a tour of the White House before they moved in. The girls found the secret passages and the best banisters to slide down. They did not for one moment allow race or politics to divide them. They were just girls having fun. Laura and Michelle were simply first ladies sharing rare insights into a position few others have held.
So what about us? Next argument you get in over politics – and you know you will – why not search for common ground.
2. Make a friend with someone not like you.
I don’t think I need to say that the Bushes and Obamas are different. They actually couldn’t be more different. Yet despite their dramatic differences, they bond through the shared experience of being President and in their love for America. You’d be surprised at how an African American mom and a Hispanic dad actually share the dreams of a White mom and an Asian dad for their children. Parenting challenges are pretty universal. If we could talk to each other we would probably realize we have more in common than we think. Suddenly race, ethnicity and status would not matter as much. We might find ourselves able to embrace someone with whom we have dramatically different ideas.
Ask yourself if you have any friends of a different political background, social background or racial background. If not. Expand your pool of friends. You really are missing out. Don’t believe me? Do you honestly think when you get to heaven there is going to be a ________________’s only section. There won’t be. Every tribe, nation and language is represented. That’s the Kingdom of God and Jesus wanted that Kingdom to come in the prayer he taught us to pray. So let’s pray and press toward seeing that Kingdom come.
3. Thanks Obama. Good-natured humor goes a long way.
If you follow satire then you know the President actually has a good sense of humor. Humor toward himself and in general. Humor is important. By not taking yourself so seriously, you demonstrate humility. I’m sure people will disagree but I believe both George Bush and Barack Obama have good humor and humility.
Not long ago George was at the White House for the hanging of his official portrait. He reminded Michelle of another former first lady, Dolly Madison, who when the White House was burning down saved the portrait of another George W. (Washington). He just wanted to make certain she would do the same. Last Saturday Barack ended his remarks at the museum opening by kidding George about his taking bets on the length of Obama’s speech. Good humor helps build relationship.
Some people don’t appreciate the Bush’s relationship with the Obama’s. George senior was criticized for his friendship with Bill Clinton. But didn’t we fight a Civil War so we could be the United States of America and not the Divided States of America.
As a Christ follower, I grieve the divisiveness I see among fellow believers. We ought to be first to join a great president in saying, “with malice toward none, and charity toward all” (Abraham Lincoln). Yet, too many enter into a new holy war believing someone cannot possibly be a ___________ and still be a Christian. Christ died to destroy barriers of hostility. Let’s follow His example. And let’s follow the example of Michelle Obama and George Bush. We can embrace our commonalities while not losing our differences.
That reminder has never been more important than in our current political climate.