By Eric Failing
Last October, something remarkable happened in Pennsylvania that few noticed.
Frankly, it was desperately needed in this moment of divisiveness in our politics and country.
As state lawmakers were feverishly working to finish the legislative calendar for 2019, and Washington was swirling with its usual array of full-contact politics, something quietly happened in Harrisburg that you wouldn’t learn about on cable news shows or shouting matches on social media.
On a stage in the Capitol, Catholics, Muslims, Jews and Sikhs stood together against hate and the anger that has divided our politics, communities and nation.
Fittingly, they were there to support a new package of bills to confront hate crimes in Pennsylvania. It was a rare moment to see people of different faiths stand together against hate, and it was a powerful reminder that good people can come together even in troubled times. Admitting they didn’t agree on all issues, they stressed they did agree that hate is wrong.
As Frederick Douglass once said, “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”
It’s time to heed the words of Mr. Douglass as we arrive at a critical time in Pennsylvania and America. Once again, we’re on the precipice of tearing apart our nation for another presidential election. These tears in our nation’s fabric permeate all of our local communities.
We’re seeing this already.
Turn on the news, and all you hear is shouting, and all you see is finger-wagging. Much of it is political theatre. In truth, on-air antagonists are often off-screen friends.
But friendship isn’t good for business; strife and controversy is. The problem is this only stirs up Americans, while doing nothing to move our nation forward. And all indications are it will be one of the most negative, polarizing campaign years ever. That will make for a very long year.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We can come together right now and commit to being better people, with love for each other.
Let’s make 2020 a year of compassion and civility, not just in our politics, but in our everyday interactions.
Compassion is something we all understand but often are too busy to embrace.
Pope Francis once said to the U.S. Congress, “Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves.”
That is the essence of compassion. Instead of shouting at each other on social media or cable television, let’s get to know one another and show compassion for our struggles. Isn’t that what the Lord has asked us to do? You can’t hate somebody if you know the battles they are fighting.
It is incumbent upon all of us in 2020 to practice civility. That means putting the past and ignorance aside, and choosing to work together. Challenge yourself. Each of us should move past what makes us comfortable so that we can become friends with somebody we don’t know. Get to know that person. It isn’t only good for us, but it’s good for them, too.
2020 will be one of the most important years in United States history. We’re electing our next president. Let’s not rue this moment. Let’s not standby and watch it be torn apart. We cannot endure another November election where half of America is in mourning.
Instead, we demand more of our elected officials, politics and ourselves. Let us make 2020 the year of compassion and civility. When we do, we will mark this year as the moment when America regained its soul and focused on the things that are important. The most important of which is love.
Eric Failing is the executive director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference. He writes from Harrisburg.