Taking Obama’s Cairo speech to heart in America

4 06 2009

I hope that every activist and politician in America reads the speech President Obama gave in Cairo today.  The topic was the tensions between America and the Muslim world.  But the message–the speech was called A New Beginning–should be taken to heart by every activist fighting for (and against) gay marriage, abortion, immigration..really any and all “third rail” issues in politics today.

Here’s what President Obama said:  So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, and who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity.

Right after he said these words, the president made crystal clear that he wasn’t some naive optimist who thought he could just wave the wand of his charisma and change the world.  Remembering RFK’s charge to be an idealist without illusions, the president explained that the “new beginning” he envisioned was one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; one that acknowledges the sharing of common principles–principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings. A new beginning where we say openly the things we hold in our hearts, and that too often are said only behind closed doors.

Now, imagine if the head of the fight for gay marriage in CA heard those words this morning, picked up the phone and called—I don’t know–Rick Warren or someone from the Mormon Church and invited them over for a cup of coffee.  No cameras, no press releases.  Just a conversation based upon mutual interest and mutual respect. A conversation where the gay activist put herself in the place of someone who truly believes it is God who defines marriage as between a man and a woman…and where the Mormon puts himself in the place of someone who simply wants equality before the law, not a church.  I wonder what would happen?

Imagine if someone from the National Right to Life organization went, not only to express condolences to George Tiller’s family, but also to explore ways the abortion debate in this country could make room for acknowledgement of tolerance and dignity of all human beings.

Those conversations wouldn’t be easy.  After all, there are plenty of people on BOTH sides of the gay marriage, abortion and immigration debates who promote conflict over cooperation.  It makes better tv, raises more money and, most important, preserves their power.  But who needs tv, money or power if you’re working from common ground?

And, if we really want to be daring and crazy, imagine if Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner or, perhaps, Jon Stewart and Rush Limbaugh launched a national conversation about the similarities between liberals and conservatives,not the differences?

A conversation that was “a new beginning” of  a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground.

Most of America was sleeping when President Obama gave his speech.   Maybe, today, we can wake up…from the easy slumber of divisiveness. Maybe we can wake up to the hard work of truly listening to, learning from and respecting each other.

THAT would be a “new beginning” worth getting out of bed for!




3 responses

6 06 2009

This is spot-on. The unfortunate reality of today is that even as we become more connected (i.e. out here blogging, social networking, etc.) we still hold on to really polarized views from our own individual upbringing and experiences. Some would also argue that the above situations cannot coexist because there can only be one “right” answer for each. These are the people who are quick to jump on one side of the fence or the other (and I have been guilty too).

I’m inclined to agree with you–it is time. But had this post taken a less tolerant view…would I be able to have this same conversation with you?

6 06 2009

Thanks for the comment. “Tolerance” is overrated!!
I actually think we have to be persistent–respectfully and with lowered volume–in pursuing this conversation, especially with the least tolerant. Perhaps we can find a chink in their hostility and pierce that with a bit of mutual respect and–big breath now–compassion. Or, maybe as we try to engage them, we’ll engage a by-stander who secretly has wanted to have such a conversation but not known where to find it. I really do believe that folks’ nature is to be compassionate. There are just so many layers of unnatural divisiveness, etc (scotchguarded with power), that it’ll take time to peel them off. I’m not that busy these days, so why not peel away!!!

8 06 2009

What a powerful and simple idea. Having these kinds of conversations requires a level of skill, however, that I has been lost by most Americans. As a country, we have forgotten the art of discourse and suffer accordingly. For evidence of this, all you have to do is go to any of the discussion threads on the newsboards — its a mish-mash of vitriol and name calling that mimics the public debate of many of our leaders and public figures. It raises an interesting question: how do teach a country to talk?

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