“You have in common cause fought and triumphed together. The Independence and Liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts, of common dangers, sufferings and successes.”
— George Washington in his Farewell Address, 1796
“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
— Abraham Lincoln accepting the Illinois Republican Party’s nomination for U.S. senator, 1858
We recently celebrated Presidents’ Day, the day dedicated to remembering George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
One devoted his life to the creation of our country, while the other guided America though an ugly, divisive civil war.
Each man begged us to remain united, no matter how divergent our beliefs.
Both Washington and Lincoln implored us to move beyond our limited perspectives and cling to that which we have in common — the undying love of our country.
Loving our country doesn’t mean we don’t have differences, or that we don’t want to follow varying paths. It means approaching those disparities respectfully and seeking to achieve a workable solution.
As a family therapist for many decades, I took the same approach with unhappy couples. They’d come into my office with what felt like insurmountable problems, some already convinced that divorce was the only way out.
But when I urged them to consider the larger picture — the love and well-being of their families — many realized what was at stake. They were able to redirect their focus from what they disliked about their partners to what they had in common.
After all, the survival of the union was at stake.
Then I taught them skills for resolving the difficult issues.
They learned to dialog calmly, to disengage when tempers flared. They practiced accuracy and civility in their discourse, knowing that ranting and accusations brought communication to a screeching halt. They treated each other with more kindness, recognizing that unkindness never achieved the desired results.
Finally, they learned how to have fun, to engage in activities that brought them together and made them feel like part of a team.
Of course, not every couple succeeded in the process.
Some marriages needed to dissolve. Others were damaged beyond repair. But the vast majority improved with the simplest of interventions.
I couldn’t help but think about these concepts as I watched the impeachment proceedings against former President Donald Trump.
Sadly, I saw a country that was deeply divided. Unity was being trampled before my eyes.
What if we nationally employed the same principles that helped married couples reconnect?
We could acknowledge that we’re all Americans, regardless of our nationalities, incomes, religions or genders. And we could agree that we seek the very same goals: the ability to live healthy, productive lives and to ensure the safety and education of our children.
We could then talk to each other in calm, respectful tones. We could replace ranting and blaming with kindness and acceptance.
Finally, we could find common ground and engage in activities that brought us together.
I realize my notions are simplistic. I know more work needs to be done.
But if we’re going to strive for unity and honor the legacies of these great men, that would be a very good place to start.