Tuesday, April 3, 2012

What's Plaguing You?

Ever since people got the idea of moving beyond the classic Maxwell House Haggadah to jazz up their sedarim in some manner, the question has been posed: "What are the plagues of modern society?"

Many have pondered this, and have come up with answers far more creative and eloquent than I might devise.  So I'm certainly not claiming to be breaking any new ground with this post.  In my opinion, though, one of the greatest plagues of the modern era is our inability to engage in civil discourse.  Whatever your political, religious, or social stripe, I think it is not hard to recognize that there are those in every camp who are so convinced that their manner of thinking represents the only conceivable truth that they are unwilling to permit any dialogue that might run counter to these beliefs.  Certainly it can be admirable to cling to one's convictions in the face of adversity, but our society was made great by the willingness of many in generations to accept a diversity of viewpoints, and to strive toward compromise.

Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin titled her biography of Abraham Lincoln Team of Rivals, based on the courageous decision of our 16th president to appoint those whom he had bested in the 1860 Republican primary to positions of prominence in his administration.  Edward Bates became Attorney General; William Seward became Secretary of State; and Salmon P. Chase became Secretary of the Treasury.  By seeking the counsel of his former opponents, Lincoln strove to overcome divisiveness and welcome the views of those who differed from him.  While an imperfect system, it certainly seems preferable to the gridlock driven by animosity that seems to be the rule of today.

It makes me think of the satirist Tom Lehrer, who sang of National Brotherhood Week, noting that "to hate all of the right folks is an old established rule."

One can go to Egypt today and not encounter blood, frogs, and the like.  Eventually, sanity was restored to that nation.  Similarly, one can hope that we can overcome this modern plague and restore harmony in our lives.

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