OpEd: Values for Political Transformation
On an early November evening, my enjoyment of ESPN’s Sports Center was interrupted by six consecutive political commercials, most of them “attack ads” representing the toxic tone of contemporary politics. I found myself wondering how Alvernia University’s Franciscan values—Service, Contemplation, Humility, Collegiality, and Peacemaking—might reshape, indeed transform, political discourse . . . and help guide the bi-partisan cooperation and compromise needed in the months ahead.
SERVICE: We probably should give the benefit-of-the-doubt to politicians—federal, state, and local—that they are motivated primarily by a desire to serve their fellow citizens and promote the common good. Yet special-interest politics calls the genuineness of a service ethic into question. Doesn’t callousness or indifference toward a large segment of American society and narrow single-issue politics seem at times to make advocacy of an agenda far more important than high-minded public service?
CONTEMPLATION: It’s perhaps our most counter-cultural value. Doesn’t contemplation involve far deeper reflection than normally associated with contemporary life? Self-reflection, prayer, gazing appreciatively at a work of art or the beauty of nature all require quiet and an absence of distraction to make engaged listening possible. It was heartening on election night to hear Governor Romney promise to pray for the President and to hear President Obama promise that he had carefully reflected on what he had heard from Americans throughout the campaign.
HUMILITY: Strong convictions and confidence in one’s abilities need not preclude humility. In fact, couldn’t we say that those leaders with the strongest opinions and greatest certainty about their righteousness might be best served by a healthy dose of this sadly misunderstood virtue? Imagine if our most influential political leaders were open to the possibility that there might be more than one answer to the same question? Or that others might have ideas as compelling as their own? Or that they should leave to God, not assume themselves, moral judgment concerning the motives of others?
COLLEGIALITY: Collegiality requires respect for the minds and hearts of others, especially those with whom we most strongly disagree. That is the great high-minded purpose of the American college—to be a “sacred space” of inquiry and dialogue devoted to the pursuit of truth, a protected environment where differences are disputed and wide-ranging views receive respectful consideration. Collegiality does not necessitate agreement or false niceness that masks important differences. Isn’t the ultimate purpose of collegiality to discover as much common ground as possible and, equally, to target ways to bridge the gaps created by unresolvable differences?
PEACEMAKING: It all does lead here, after all. We must acknowledge that conflict is under certain circumstances sadly inevitable. But doesn’t this value call us not merely to strive to avoid hurtful conflict but also to seek actively to create peace, harmony, unity? It’s easy to be colleagues with those most like us in views and disposition. So what if politicians were evaluated not by how unequivocally they refused to work with those with whom they disagree but rather by how successfully they worked with opponents? And what if they were praised for their charity and compassion and, yes, openness to cooperation—even compromise—rather than for their stridency?
No season of the year lends itself better to personal and national reflection than Thanksgiving. As we give thanks with our families and friends for all we have received, let us also seek a renewal of our values. Perhaps within them we’ll find renewal and transformation for our country as well.
The Office of the President Staff
Assistant to the President
Francis Hall, Room 212
Francis Hall, Room 212
Mon - Fri 8:00 am – 4:30 pm