Common Values Are Essential for Democracy

**Author's Note: I write this piece with the understanding that I am a person of privilege and am writing from a privileged position. I am coming from a position of knowledge and acknowledged privilege as a white woman and my perspective is informed by my privileged experience. I am continuing in a tradition of knowledge of intersectional feminism, but have chosen not to write from a position of intersectional feminism. I invite alternative perspectives and hope that this piece inspires a broader conversation about unity. I look forward to the ensuing dialogue and can be reached at [email protected].••

 

The United States was founded on the principles of freedom of speech and freedom of expression. The rights held by the American people allowed them to openly criticize their government, which was a novel experience to someone living in 1789. Those of us alive today are the beneficiaries of these rights.

But these rights were not accomplished with ease. Months, years, centuries even, of debate created the (arguably) progressive world we live in today. There are many problems that face the American people and people around the world, and there is a long way to go before we live in a fair and just society. Today, I fear that we are on a path to losing all of the progress we have made thus far.  Passion and determination are necessary for progress. But, so are compassion and empathy. A friend told me today that we are all just humans trying to do the best we can and make the world a better place. That does not mean that we should acquiesce to racism, sexism, and xenophobia. Hate speech is hate speech, and that is not up for debate. But, when discussing how best to solve political problems in the world (as opposed to social problems), approaching the conversation with compassion and understanding usually yields more productive results.

Today, Americans either do not like to talk about politics at all, or they talk about nothing but politics. When people do talk about the state of our nation, most often, they are speaking to like-minded individuals who are unlikely to voice substantial criticisms to their points of view. But there is tremendous value in engaging with other people who hold differing opinions.

Finding common ground through discourse is the only way to address many of the problems that are plaguing our country today. Because we do not live in a dictatorship, reforms need to be pushed through several layers of government in order for change to actually occur.Never in our history has one political party or school of thought had control of every single branch of government at every single level. There is always a minority that has some power. Regardless of who is in charge, the majority cannot unilaterally impose its will on the rest of the country. Compromises are necessary to create effective policies that improve the lives of real people. At the end of the day, we’re all humans trying to make the world a better place. We just have different visions of how to get to that better place.

We have grown up in a time when it is considered “good leadership” to refuse to compromise. While this is essential in certain circumstances, for the vast majority of the time, it is not. Good leadership is doing the most good, for as many people as you can, for as long and as often as you can. That requires compromise. To make such progress, we are required to try to understand where others are coming from, in order to both bring them to the table and come up with a solution that works for everyone involved.

Yes, compromise requires sacrifice, but it does not need to be the sacrifice of guiding principles or values. No one gets everything they want in life, and it’s unreasonable for anyone, no matter what side of the aisle they sit on, to assume that they should. But getting some of what you want is better than getting none of what you want.A firm belief in the right of individuals to choose their own life path, or a steadfast commitment to the right of each human to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, might guide an individual in their decision-making. These are their principles, their values. These are things we share, areas of common ground. No matter what our position, it is inherently flawed for us to think we hold all the answers. Life is about balance. Justice and liberty cannot be mutually exclusive. We need one to get the other.

The idea that I as a Democrat have nothing in common with a Republican, or that we do not have the same values, is fundamentally flawed and will cause the downfall of our democracy if left unchecked. We have different fears, different life experiences, different perceptions of reality. But, one reality is not inherently more correct than another. We are all people on this earth, trying to make a better life for ourselves, and a better future for our kids. We just have different approaches on how to get there.

 

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