Native son Henry Clay, who made a name for himself achieving solutions through the art of compromise, must be rolling in his grave these days.
In this technologically isolating world, we as a people have become so sharply divided by forces that stand to gain by pitting us against one another that we seem to be losing touch with empathy, a human trait fundamental to the core philosophies of all of the world’s major religions, and essential to creating and sustaining the interpersonal connections that produce solutions to the problems that vex us.
Our polarized political culture and a deliberately partisan and increasingly less inquisitive media seem to have given up on the difficult work of getting into another’s shoes for a look at differing views of life, discovering and attempting to understand the contexts that inform their positions on things that matter to us all.
It’s been striking in recent weeks to hear a theme emerge from conversations with a couple of Lexington business owners, a rabbi, a banker, an artist, a minister, a professor, a retiree — even a politician — each moved to express in his or her own way and without prompting that we have lost our ability and perhaps our will to work for compromise on complex issues. Each of these individuals expressed the same concern: that this failure or outright refusal to recognize spectrums of views is the single most important obstacle to overcoming or solving the most pressing challenges of our times.
For many difficult issues confronting us on local, state and federal levels, little in the way of solutions resulting from good-faith bargaining seems evident these days.
The question is: Why?
I think it’s because we have a culture in which we no longer can expect our leaders to show us how compromise is accomplished — to lead by example. If anything, it’s become the norm to refuse to do the hard work of searching for common ground.
Yet, flexibility, adaptability and compromise are nearly always the leadership qualities that produce results that are acceptable to majorities, allowing us to move on.
We seem to now have leaders who make every effort to secure their own particular sets of interests while going all out to ensure that those with opposing views and/or interests are undermined to the point of near incapacitation. When is the last time you heard a campaigning candidate invite his or her opponents to come to the table and work out differences?
These thought leaders are pervasive in our lives. They are our elected officials, media personalities, editorial boards, cause advocates and even businesses with social or political agendas.
Regardless of the truism that nothing in life is ever absolute or certain, we see a legislative culture that routinely stakes out hardened, unforgiving positions on very serious issues that impact us all — none of which is, in truth, black-and-white simple.