The anger some Americans feel for people with opposing views seems to have become more vitriolic and intense. At times, given the amplifying power of social media, our differences, which are fewer and less important than the shared values that are supposed to unite us, appear to be all-consuming.
However sharp our differences, however vigorous and even intemperate our debates have been, they shouldn’t prevent us from respecting each other, from valuing each other’s dignity. That’s so contrary to our founding convictions and to genuine greatness — an individual’s greatness and the country’s. Civility is something John knew instinctively. And he knew, too, that our debates should try to persuade and not just defeat our opponents and that they shouldn’t paralyze either side from acting together when necessary to defend our country’s common interests and values.
When Congress returns from its August recess, I hope its veteran members, many of whom my husband was proud to call his friends, and its newest ones will energetically contest the issues of the day. I hope they will fight for their beliefs and enjoy the contest. But I hope, too, as John would, that they do it with minds open to the possibility of compromise for the country’s sake, and hearts open to the possibility and joys of unexpected friendships. I believe most Americans would find great value in that approach to politics and governing, and to well-lived lives. It is time to inspire a renewal of civil engagement that is so critical to meet the challenges of the future.