Based on the title, if you guessed I am an Elvis Costello fan you would be correct. Although he did not pen this song, this is one of my favorites that he does. While I love the beat, I like it more for the words and its goal. What is so funny about peace, love and understanding?
With so many problems in the world and in our country, it never ceases to amaze me how we can fight over issues that are not that important leaving the more complex issues alone because the solutions are not easy and require sacrifice, planning and commitment. In our country, there are many who have grown weary over the divisiveness and “we/they” scenarios that punctuate every conversation. The so-called combatants and their funders are a key reason, but the media is also at fault. When I hear the media is “biased” against a specific group, I personally don’t see that as much as the so-called “insulted’ group does. Yet, where the media is biased is toward conflict because conflict sells papers, magazines and the supporting advertisements.
Using the title of Mr. Costello’s recording, we should strive toward a goal of being more understanding finding peace and love where we can. We should celebrate our collaborative successes and appreciate our differences rather than use them as a lever to divide. One of my recent posts noted that religion is at its best is when it is inclusive. The antithesis is true as well with religion being at it its worst when it is exclusive. And, it goes beyond religion to any grouping of people whether they are elected or not.
In the book “That Used to be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World it Invented and How we can Come Back” by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum, the authors cite one of the most powerful tools to combat negative impression of the US in the Middle East occurred when we had multiple race, gender and ethnic groups as crew members of a ship captained by a female officer. When our loosely termed allies saw this, after getting past their disbelief of a female commander, they realized the greatness of America. They saw full force our melting pot of people and cultures that constitute our country. We are not just Christians – we are Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Agnostics. We are not just men in power, we are women working side by side and leading others. We are Hispanic Americans, African-Americans, Native Americans, Caucasian Americans, Asian Americans and so on.
Our diversity is our strength. When we celebrate it, understand our differences and similarities, and channel this diverse power of thought and perspectives, we are unmatched as a country. When we are inclusive, we are a force to be reckoned with. When we are exclusive, we dilute our strength and lessen our effectiveness. Unfortunately, we have let ourselves become divided. We need to alter this course or we will continue our slide downhill.
The President is criticized when he cites that we are not as exceptional as we used to be. He is dead on accurate and I would encourage every person, leader and politician to read the aforementioned book “That Used to be Us…” I recently heard Sir Ken Robinson, a noted education advocate, speak. he made the comment if you walked on the floor of Parliament in the late 1800’s and told the British rulers that Great Britain would decline in its status as the leading world power by the end of the next generation, you would have been laughed at. In fact, it took less time than that. He says the US is in the same boat today confirming the premise of the book by Messrs. Friedman and Mandelbaum. His thesis confirms the major problem seen by Friedman and Mandelbaum – we have to reinvigorate our education decline in the US. We have fallen in rank in math and science to 23rd and 27th (note the Exxon Mobil commercial cites we are 25th in Math). The only way for us to address this issue is to understand the issues and plan on how best to solve them.
This issue is just one of many that will require a concerted effort that will take time to become effective. Most of our problems, such as the environment, alternative energy, infrastructure, etc. will require collaborative planning and execution simply because the solution will take several Presidential or Congressional terms to show dividends. To do this, we have to have a collaborative effort to seek common ground and understanding. We need multiple voices at the table voicing their opinions, listening to others and developing reasonable plans of attack. We need to get away from these “zero-sum game” fights where someone has to lose. We need the “truth-seekers” to identify the issues and determine where truth is present, but equally important, not present in the data.
We need people to be inclusive and find areas of agreement. I read once that “creativity resides in the intersections of groups, not within the groups themselves.” This was actually used to reference how we can better educate our college students, but it applies to many areas. If the problems are complex meaning the answers need to be well-thought out, it behooves us to make possible these intersections of creativity. We will find more elegant answers to our problems. Yet, to do so means we need to seek to understand.
The understanding will lead us into the other two elements of Elvis’ song – peace and love. It goes without saying if we understand each other better and realize we are not all that different, then aggression will subside. We will find more peaceful resolutions and ways to coexist. People want to live in a peaceful environment. They want to raise their families and live meaningful lives. The opposite is not sustainable. So, why in our country of so many opportunities, do we find ways to divide. Understanding will promote peaceful coexistence. If you have ever visited Costa Rica, you would find a country with a literacy rate of 97%, almost all of whom are bilingual. They also do not have a military. Many US companies have Latin American centers there for this very reason. Think about that – 97% literacy rate and no military. I would add literacy will also aid understanding of others, so if we can become more literate and educated here, great things can happen. You need only look at the decline in literacy of certain countries in the Middle East – if the people are kept less literate, they are more easily controlled and swayed.
I am not ready to sing “Kum Bi Ya” yet and say we all must love each other, but if we understand each other, coexist peacefully, then stranger things could happen than people liking and loving each other more. Just think about these examples. The more we have seen in media and in public bi-racial couples the more such occurrences have become accepted in our society. The more children from bi-racial marriages that have occurred and thrived, the less of an issue this has become. In fact, some of the younger readers may not believe me when I say this was an issue. Bi-racial couples were harder to find back in the 1960’s when I was in my formative years and they actually steered clear of certain regions. Now, such couples are not uncommon at all.
Also, think about the lesbian and gay community. Even though we have a way to go, this country has made major strides in respecting the rights of our LGBT citizens. The “Modern Family” sit-com on ABC is not an anomaly anymore with many families having members with different sexual preferences. This is why the efforts by very conservative groups to be more restrictive is so unfortunate, as we are being less inclusive. The part that these folks don’t realize is by becoming more exclusive, you are actually pushing people away. I believe this is a key reason organized religion is on the demise. For those who are inclusive, the opposite holds true. You will become more understanding and find the good in all. WWJD – He was, is and would be more inclusive.
Peace, love and understanding. If we start with the latter, the other two will follow. Then, we can get Elvis to sing “Kum Bi Ya” for us as an encore to his titled song.