Like the crew of the Titanic, I see a dangerous iceberg straight ahead. Contempt is the one emotion that can destroy relationships, marriages or societies. If unchecked, it will bring rising cycles of recrimination, violence and revenge. We can steer clear of this iceberg if we correct course right now. We need to start talking with, and listening to each other.
We have so much in common. We all love our country, the United States of America. I fondly remember saying the Pledge of Allegiance each morning in school, with old glory next to the chalkboard. I honor my ancestors, who took up arms for liberty. I remember Fourth of July parades, and watching the first moon landing. Our country has done many great and generous things. I’m proud of our history. I bet you are, too.
We all love Alaska, and Juneau. Eternal twilight of the long summer days. Tundra and dwarf spruce trees of the interior. Awestruck riding down Lynn Canal, on my way to Juneau for the first time. Even now, winter snowfall is so gorgeous. Each day’s a little longer. Juneau is such an awesome place to call home!
We have the same core values. We all cherish our families. We all value honesty, moral strength and hard work. They are the foundation of our great country. Many of us rose through hard work, discipline and sacrifice. Likewise we all honor the sacrifices of our ancestors. Red or blue, we all value these things.
Likewise, we all believe in helping the needy, though we may differ on the details. None of us feel we should encourage dependency on government. We agree with the need to live within our means. Nobody really wants a 1950s-style communist state. Fundamentally we agree on the big-picture issues. Let’s not get lost in the trees.
One blessing of old age is you begin to see beyond yourself. My deepest wish is to give our descendants a strong economy, the blessings of liberty and a healthy environment. What we leave for others is our real legacy. We can set the table for future generations if we work together.
But it only happens if we arrest this cycle of contempt. They used to call Beirut “the Paris of the middle east.” After decades of civil war, it’s a bullet-riddled shell of its former self. Look at Germany in the 1930s. Look at Russia under Putin. They started out as democracies, but let strongmen turn them into dictatorships. If we don’t talk, that’s where we’re headed.
It starts with respect. We’re all equal citizens in this democracy. I am not better than you, and you are not better than me. Without respect, we’ll close our hearts to each other. We may not even let “the other” speak at all. But with it, anything is possible. Respect is like magic. Once we connect, doors open up that were invisible before.
The media makes it harder to connect. They feed us fun-house mirror versions of each other, to scare us and capture our attention. That’s how they make money. Some news outlets practice journalistic ethics.
Others intentionally distort the truth to make a buck. None of us are as bad, or as extreme as the for-profit media says. They’re feeding us a distorted view of the world, for profit.
The best way out of our news bubbles is to have a cup of coffee together. To get off the couch, and put the computer down. When we talk one-on-one, I am always amazed at how much we have in common. It feels like we can solve anything.
I’ll close with an action plan, and a promise. Here’s what I’ll put into the pot: I’ll write this My Turn to the Empire, to help get us talking. I will call one person I disagree with, and set a time to meet. My challenge to you is to also reach out to one person you disagree with. If we build enough bridges, we can steer this ship clear of the looming iceberg. Now is the time.
• Robert Welton, Jr. is a retired State of Alaska employee who resides in Douglas.