At a recent church meeting a parishioner who publicly described himself as a “gun toting, bible thumping, redneck” said he wanted us to pray “that this country will get straightened out. It is in an awful mess which we are leaving for our children”. I found myself agreeing with him. I see local, state and federal governments in a terrible mess. The problem is that I know from what he has said at other times that the solution he is praying for is quite different from the solutions I would see as creating a more positive situation for our nation and for future generations.
I see this time after time in institutions, neighborhoods, and political groups, as well as in the church. We seem to be able to agree on negatives but not on the positives. We can stand together and decry the terrible state of things. But we are not able to agree on any sort of outcome or compromise to move us towards an outcome that is better than the present situation.
For example I can stand in agreement with my redneck brother in Christ that we need immigration reform. But when we get down to what would the reform we want looks like we are poles apart. He might want to find and deport millions of people, stop those here illegally from seeking work, health care, education or any other publicly funded service for themselves and for their children and to prevent any children born here from being considered US citizens. I on the other hand would want to see a process for those already here and working (if they meet the appropriate criteria) to be able to legalize their status; to establish a guest worker program that would take them out of the shadows; and provide rights to foreign workers similar to that required for domestic workers (safety, health and wage equity).
It seems to me that mere agreements on negatives are not very helpful and can give us a false sense that we agree on where we wish to go. It is harder to achieve agreement on what we need to work for in terms of our vision for the solution. We need to be clear what is our vision for the future we desire to live into? And we need to be willing to get less than our ideal to be able to move towards and agreement. (In a good compromise, my grandmother taught me, both parties get less than they want.)
If we spend less time focused on the negatives (such as decrying situations) and more time working to find actions that move us toward solutions we can live with we will actually accomplish something positive rather than just proclaiming negatives.