When I was growing up the country seemed in the process of coming together as a nation. We had come out of the Depression and World War II, both of which produced feelings of a common struggle. Still, there were too many left out of that coming together. However, starting with Truman’s integrating the military and the push for civil rights it seemed that we began the process of national reconciliation. Television news, with people such as Walter Cronkite, gave us a common sense of reality based on informed reporting. We even began to smooth out regional dialects. But today, the technology and information revolution has created a multiplicity of sources. People now search out sources which support their own existing belief systems, regardless of the reliability of those sources. We are becoming more tribal once again. Realities are now too often based on tribal allegiances.
I am quite familiar with a society where tribalism is celebrated, at least by those who dominate the discourse. I am a child of the South, born in Memphis in 1942. Before I was two my father was off fighting in the South Pacific and along with my mother, my grandparents were at the center of my life. My father’s parents were unusual in the South as I saw that they never held prejudice against anyone. My mother’s father had been the grocer to the black community and gave credit freely, to be paid, “When you can afford it.” If he hadn’t also been the bootlegger to the city’s elite my mother’s family would probably have starved. My family were dissidents within their own tribe, which was, at times, an uneasy position.
My experience in the South taught me that there are some people and groups with whom we can not reconcile. We live in a country where, nationally, the majority of power does not agree with the majority of the people. At this moment of tribal ascendency it appears that the national government will no longer be a source of national reconciliation. It can no longer be expected to protect those who are not part of the new tribal alliance. However, that does not mean that celebration of difference, support for the marginalized, protection of the environment or other similar causes can not be achieved. The phrase we used to use was think globally, act locally. California is, and can remain, a place of which we can be proud. No matter what happens at the national level, California can show the nation, and the world, what is possible. After all, if California was an independent nation it would be the 6th largest economy in the world, surpassing that of France. And California is not alone. There is hope for the future.
So don’t lose hope. Listen to others, really listen, even if it forces you to withhold judgement. It will not be possible to reconcile with everyone, but accepting the humanity of everyone is essential to a just society. Never forget that those who are hurting tend to blame others. Doing this may allow them to avoid facing the true sources of their pain, so try empathy rather than contempt. Reconcile when you can, don’t despair when you cannot and hold to the faith that, as Dr. King said, quoting Unitarian Minister Theodore Parker, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”