You could have knocked me over with a feather when President-elect Barack Obama decided that he wanted Hillary Clinton to be his Secretary of State. After all, the Clintons had some rather unflattering descriptions of a man they believed came from out of nowhere to destroy a Clinton cherished dream that they and so many just a year before believed a reality.
But this move was foreshadowed by the selection of Joe Biden, whose "first clean cut" description early in the campaign was immediately forgiven. Moving forward, Obama cabinet has been "Obamad" with former rivals, all who in practical terms differed with Obama only mildly. And so I believe a new verb has been birthed: "To Obama": 1. to rise above personal assault for the greater good; 2. to take rivals, hold them close, and use their innumerable talents for service; 3. to apply a shrewd, common sense, non-adversarial approach to vastly complex problems.
But whoa... more has happened: Rick Warren, the man of hate-filled rhetoric, will offer the invocation at Obama's inauguration. Now Warren is not one who disagrees with Obama only mildly. And the back lash to this decision has been severe. So what is going on here?!
I am going to divert from our specific topic now. But please stay with me, for I will return to it.
As some of you know, I have practiced as a clinical social worker, family therapist and family life educator for over twenty five years. My practice is diverse, but part of it centers on working with men, women and children involved in emotional, physical and sexual abuse, both those imposing it and those enduring it. This is such complex work; it has humbled me; and it has taught me so much. I have learned that those among us who do and say the most despicable things have not had the opportunity to learn to think for themselves and to be heard and respected. They treat others as they had been treated. I have learned that change is slow, but that if I can learn to find the good, even in those who have acted despicably, growth will happen.
This work has led me to become a consultant to an award-winning Philadelphia theatre company, Theatre Exile, which in their theatre selections often chose plays that bring to life searing works concentrating on attitudes and acts that can destroy all hope. Their upcoming work is David Harrower's award-winning, Blackbird, which focuses on the sexual abuse of a twelve year old girl. My work with Exile is to give the artists actual case histories (maintaining strict confidentiality, of course) that can show how the characters portrayed became who they are. And also to show who the true enemies of society are: the so-called "pillars" who insist that our youth live and behave as they dictate, never able to question and think for themselves. And through this necessary process become mature adults.
Now back to the selection of Warren. Barack Obama's popular vote was 66,882,230. John McCain, however, won 58,343,671 votes. That, as my darling Aunt Dorothy would say, "is not small potatoes." There was a time when, despite disagreements, Democrats and Republicans could come together, give and take, and compromise for the greater good. We have lost all ability to do this. Thinking people know that fulfilling marriages all encompass this mature art. And so once again, must mature governance.
The people who express the most horrific prejudice have not had an opportunity to learn differently or spend time with the recipients of their cruelty, seeing them as human beings who want what most people long for -- to love and work and raise their families in peace. Still, many, like Warren, have done good in their worlds. President-elect Obama is concentrating on the latter. He knows that America's hate-filled, untrusting divide must end. We must learn to walk in each other's steps, and (forgive the past misuse of the upcoming word) learn compassion. With that there can be growth and compromise.
It cannot be overlooked that the bible used when Obama takes his oath of office will be the one used by Abraham Lincoln. And so I offer two additional applications of the verb, "To Obama:" 4. to see the good in those with whom there are profound disagreements; 5. to build on this good in order to respect the civil rights of all Americans.