Hey, Neighbor!

Sometimes, you just have to stop and go talk with your neighbor. No way around it. Garbage can blew sideways, kids selling cookies, misidentified mail, delivering some seasonal gift. Or maybe just because the world has gotten too crazy. Big questions gnaw at you -- worry you, worry your neighbor. But it is good to have a neighbor. Americans must remember who we are, even in the echo of this election, maybe especially now -- we are neighbors.   

Whatever the varied, variegated, vegan, valiant politics of your neighbor, they are still your neighbor. And in times of national division and disaffection, concern or crisis, Americans always turn to their neighbors, comforting and lifting them, listening and enlightening them, consoling or absorbing consolation from them, ultimately protecting and laughing with them. It is in our nature, as we are a social, slightly sentimental, essentially generous and giving people.

Today, this connection seems to need some renewing, as the cloud of national politics envelopes us. We could benefit from a national pause, recalling why we cherish neighbors, love this country, National Anthem, flag in the breeze, and why we owe time to each other. We need to remember that part of what we should be thankful for, and always have been, is our neighbors. Because America is -- neighbors caring about neighbors.  

As a nation, of course, we have our gripes. We are allowed to. Free people do speak up, because they can. They exercise individual liberties – from speech and press to association and religion, bearing arms to sounding alarms, states’ rights to due process, fair hearings to child rearing. But there is more to freedom than assertion. Just as liberties attach to individuals and not groups, civil society persists by virtue of individual civic duties, the first of which may actually be working to understand each other. Again, back to visiting your neighbor -- especially in a time of stress.

In the context of timeless principles, we owe each other time, getting to know one another again. We seem to have been away, and it is time -- not as party but as nation -- to come home. It is time to rediscover the joy and cohesion that comes with effort and forgiving, strength of purpose, awareness of common goodness and our striving history, as One People.  

So, as we get beyond gatherings centered on victory and defeat, let’s try to put the electoral rancor and recriminations behind us, as much as our stirred souls will allow. Let’s actually imbibe from the good cup, understanding the basis for giving thanks. As Americans, our neighbors are extraordinary -- even if they disagree with us, and America is extraordinary because they can peaceably disagree with us, and we with them.

The Founders were not very fond of factions, that is, choosing to accept some neighbors and reject others, instead urging moral and physical connection to Americans as Americans. According to de Tocqueville in the 1830s, we were doing that bit pretty well back then, all things considered. And we do it pretty well today, when not put upon, induced or mandated to divide and conquer ourselves.   

If modern media poke at us, offering opportunities to take or give offense, to divide neighbors, shrug it off. They have their game, and it has been reckless, complicit in the folly of seeding a disavowal of our nation’s honorable and generous past, ignoring the common sacrifice we have -- all of us -- undertaken for each other. America’s past is lit by shared aspiration, and sharing our aspirations now with neighbors is how we will light the future. When rancor starts again, or media talkers stirs you, let them go.

When the invitation comes to follow useless, divisive passions, to draw senseless lines and puncture the inner peace with points of disconnection and difference, shrug again. Go visit your neighbor, and together break some bread, raise a glass and laugh at life’s capriciousness, the folly of wind and man -- then toast our good fortune as Americans, and each other.

We are still “One Nation under God,” so long as we resolved to be “One Nation under God.” The day we lose understanding and resolution, is the day we cease to enjoy that special “Hand of Providence” upon our shoulder, and bearings as a free people. But we are not at that day, just under a cloud -- and that is why we need to drop the tiring task of being divided, returning to the warmth of oneness -- in a season of giving and Thanksgiving.

Not a big deal, really. I bet you can find any reason, something like a cup of sugar or box of cookies, talking about weather or shoveling a sidewalk, to reconnect with a neighbor, or several. Once you have, the sky brightens and heart lifts. Such a simple thing, reconnecting. Nothing complicated about it, if maybe requiring a little courage -- but that is who we are, we Americans, uncomplicated in love of liberty, community and neighbors, endowed with courage. When better to share than at Thanksgiving? But seems we are there. Time to stop writing, and to go talk with my neighbor.  

Robert B. Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, former attorney, educator and naval officer, who writes periodically on national issues.  

Sometimes, you just have to stop and go talk with your neighbor. No way around it. Garbage can blew sideways, kids selling cookies, misidentified mail, delivering some seasonal gift. Or maybe just because the world has gotten too crazy. Big questions gnaw at you -- worry you, worry your neighbor. But it is good to have a neighbor. Americans must remember who we are, even in the echo of this election, maybe especially now -- we are neighbors.   

Whatever the varied, variegated, vegan, valiant politics of your neighbor, they are still your neighbor. And in times of national division and disaffection, concern or crisis, Americans always turn to their neighbors, comforting and lifting them, listening and enlightening them, consoling or absorbing consolation from them, ultimately protecting and laughing with them. It is in our nature, as we are a social, slightly sentimental, essentially generous and giving people.

Today, this connection seems to need some renewing, as the cloud of national politics envelopes us. We could benefit from a national pause, recalling why we cherish neighbors, love this country, National Anthem, flag in the breeze, and why we owe time to each other. We need to remember that part of what we should be thankful for, and always have been, is our neighbors. Because America is -- neighbors caring about neighbors.  

As a nation, of course, we have our gripes. We are allowed to. Free people do speak up, because they can. They exercise individual liberties – from speech and press to association and religion, bearing arms to sounding alarms, states’ rights to due process, fair hearings to child rearing. But there is more to freedom than assertion. Just as liberties attach to individuals and not groups, civil society persists by virtue of individual civic duties, the first of which may actually be working to understand each other. Again, back to visiting your neighbor -- especially in a time of stress.

In the context of timeless principles, we owe each other time, getting to know one another again. We seem to have been away, and it is time -- not as party but as nation -- to come home. It is time to rediscover the joy and cohesion that comes with effort and forgiving, strength of purpose, awareness of common goodness and our striving history, as One People.  

So, as we get beyond gatherings centered on victory and defeat, let’s try to put the electoral rancor and recriminations behind us, as much as our stirred souls will allow. Let’s actually imbibe from the good cup, understanding the basis for giving thanks. As Americans, our neighbors are extraordinary -- even if they disagree with us, and America is extraordinary because they can peaceably disagree with us, and we with them.

The Founders were not very fond of factions, that is, choosing to accept some neighbors and reject others, instead urging moral and physical connection to Americans as Americans. According to de Tocqueville in the 1830s, we were doing that bit pretty well back then, all things considered. And we do it pretty well today, when not put upon, induced or mandated to divide and conquer ourselves.   

If modern media poke at us, offering opportunities to take or give offense, to divide neighbors, shrug it off. They have their game, and it has been reckless, complicit in the folly of seeding a disavowal of our nation’s honorable and generous past, ignoring the common sacrifice we have -- all of us -- undertaken for each other. America’s past is lit by shared aspiration, and sharing our aspirations now with neighbors is how we will light the future. When rancor starts again, or media talkers stirs you, let them go.

When the invitation comes to follow useless, divisive passions, to draw senseless lines and puncture the inner peace with points of disconnection and difference, shrug again. Go visit your neighbor, and together break some bread, raise a glass and laugh at life’s capriciousness, the folly of wind and man -- then toast our good fortune as Americans, and each other.

We are still “One Nation under God,” so long as we resolved to be “One Nation under God.” The day we lose understanding and resolution, is the day we cease to enjoy that special “Hand of Providence” upon our shoulder, and bearings as a free people. But we are not at that day, just under a cloud -- and that is why we need to drop the tiring task of being divided, returning to the warmth of oneness -- in a season of giving and Thanksgiving.

Not a big deal, really. I bet you can find any reason, something like a cup of sugar or box of cookies, talking about weather or shoveling a sidewalk, to reconnect with a neighbor, or several. Once you have, the sky brightens and heart lifts. Such a simple thing, reconnecting. Nothing complicated about it, if maybe requiring a little courage -- but that is who we are, we Americans, uncomplicated in love of liberty, community and neighbors, endowed with courage. When better to share than at Thanksgiving? But seems we are there. Time to stop writing, and to go talk with my neighbor.  

Robert B. Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, former attorney, educator and naval officer, who writes periodically on national issues.  

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