Moving Forward Together

Wednesday, July 1, 2020
If you have ever worn a military uniform, you know what it is like. You are young, and honestly don’t understand the world around you. You go where you are told, you do what you are told. You put your life on the line to protect people you probably do not know, for purposes you do not understand. You may even be required to take the life of someone else to protect those people. Lost in all the hoopla of everything people are fighting today is that the politics of a different time are being seen by the politics of our time.
I didn’t know my ancestors, but their blood runs through my veins - not their ideologies or politics.

Nevertheless, here I am this July 4th holiday grateful for my life and to live in a country where we have freedom. I am not sure future generations will have the same freedoms moving forward. What keeps racing in my mind is what did I know as an 18-year-old? Not much. I would like to tell you that I fought so that men could be free. Perhaps there was some underlying noble reason in my motives. The truth probably lies elsewhere. I wanted to go to college, I really could not afford to go, and I knew I needed time, space and money. The Marines offered me an opportunity to find myself, and get the money that I needed to go to college. If I had to risk my life to achieve that dream, I would do it.

Lost in time, lost in all the debate of recent days, is that people much like you and me took great risks to get here. They boarded a ship, a plane, a raft, or walked across the Bering Strait. Yes, some Americans were shackled and taken from their land, in the most barbaric manner possible and stripped of their dignity, ripped from their family. It was inexcusable. My genetic tests tell me some of that blood also runs through my veins. Along with Native-American, I am a mixture of all of America. If you only see the world in Black and White, you miss all of the other colors.

The great thing about leading a non-partisan organization is that I am free to speak the truth to people - including those in power, without prejudice. In many ways, it is liberating. Because of that position, it is easier to have conversations with policymakers on both sides of the political aisle. I also apply that to my personal life, looking for those common denominators to build relationships. Our nation has traditionally had respect for statesmanship. 

In his interview with Forbes Magazine, Harvard’s Arthur Brooks, author of the bestselling book Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt, states “the media, especially social media, fuels our addiction to contempt.” He adds, “America is addicted to political contempt...many of us still compulsively consume the ideological equivalent of meth from elected officials, academics, entertainers and some of the news media.” That is why it is critical for those seeking to be informed on issues like education to find a trusted messenger capable of bringing everyone together to find the best solutions. 

Jonathan Haidt, a professor of ethics at New York University, in his interview with The Atlantic, adds to this point, “Does anyone really think we are going to win people over by insulting them and spouting hatred toward them?” Hatred is killing our country, as much as the demonization of others. Mr. Haidt also added, “When there’s so much hatred, a democracy can’t work right. You can’t get compromise. You get exactly the situation that the founders feared, that [James] Madison wrote about in ‘Federalist 10,’ which is faction, which is people care more about defeating the other side than they do about the common good.”

Our history is what it is. We can’t change what is behind us, we can only change what is in front of us. We should encourage people to protest and speak out on perceived injustices. However, if you want to embrace lawlessness and riot, destroy and commit crimes, you should face consequences. Across America, including cities in Tennessee, we have imposed a curfew on law-abiding citizens, and our very freedom is being lost because of the chaos of others.  

This is not a nation that will long survive for anyone, as long as ‘might makes right’, and people are forced to live in fear. Martin Luther King Jr. said many things on which we can reflect, like the words of Gandhi and Jesus, words get twisted and taken out of context, but on this Dr. King was clear. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Your character matters. It always did and it always will, and the final judge of your character will be the great arbitrator and final authority: God.

Alexis de Tocqueville was alleged to have written, “America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.” Regardless of where the quote came from, many of our elected leaders have embraced that foundational truth. Like President Reagan said, “America’s best days are yet to come. Our proudest moments are yet to be. Our most glorious achievements are just ahead.” This July 4 is a day for committing the country as the signers of the Declaration did in 1776 when they pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to securing American independence. Just like they did in 1776, for better or worse, we must move forward together.

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JC Bowman is the executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville.

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