Letter: Mind your ethical speedometer, America

Posted 8/15/23

Automobile speedometers are not marked STOP or GO; nor are they marked SLOW or FAST.  They have gradations — in MPH or KPH — from 0 to 150 or so.  We use common sense, road …

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Letter: Mind your ethical speedometer, America


Automobile speedometers are not marked STOP or GO; nor are they marked SLOW or FAST.  They have gradations — in MPH or KPH — from 0 to 150 or so.  We use common sense, road conditions, traffic congestion, and speed limits to press on or let up on the gas. Lots of what we do depends on gradations, including how many beers to drink in an evening or even what height to set the lawn mower. In these important or trivial affairs, the old saying seems to apply: “honorable people may differ.” Emphasis on “honorable.”

So, maybe we should all take a deep breath and imagine that we each has a political or policy “speedometer” to guide us. Surely, liberals do not hate America; nor do conservatives yearn for exclusive rule. The great majority of us ordinary people, all from somewhere else at some point, agree on first principles. They include love of family; cooperation in times of natural disaster; kindness to strangers; and the best interests of our favorite college and pro teams!

These wide agreements comprise the foundation of our communities and the life of our country.  Which priorities should highlight our national budget will always be hotly debated, as they should be. Defense, climate change, social security, environmental protection, health care, small business assistance, public health, public education (and more) are too important to too many to become roadblocks to governance or “tests” of individual or party loyalty.

If, as seems truer each day, we are losing trust in our institutions, including the Congress, this means we are losing trust in one another. This is not a good place for us to be. How we get to a better place is something of a mystery, at least to me. We need competing political parties that operate within the bounds of human decency, if not of comity. If disagreements become political losses which become disappointments, welcome to the world. Try harder next time. But when losses engender hate and discontent, we’re in big trouble. 

We’re all selfish and self-centered to some extent. But failing to develop a personal, ethical speedometer as an essential part of citizenship is to court disaster. Our political opponents are entitled to a voice and to respect. Why? Simply because they are Americans: bankers, welders, chefs, nurses, teachers, farmers, mechanics, musicians, and public servants — all of them are our neighbors. None of us deserves a pass if we break the law, but none of us should “go postal” against a person whose opinions differ from yours. We need to modulate and temper our responses for the common good. A bit humility never hurt. No?

Here’s the bottom line: If our national goal is to bend the arc of our history toward goodness and justice, then our citizenship will, by definition, be respectful, restrained, and cooperative. Zoom along sometimes, but keep an eye on your speedometer.

Will Newman


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