Senator John McCain recently stood in front of his colleagues in the Senate and called for bipartisanship. Afterward, because he’d voted with the GOP, many on the left criticized his words as hypocritical. This black-and-white mentality prevented them from appreciating the heroic courage it took to deliver his message of unity to a divided Congress and country. Now, after voting against the “skinny repeal,” Senator McCain is facing criticism from members of his own party.
Our culture of “judge and attack” makes us wary of one another and impedes reconciliation: those who just days ago derided Senator McCain as a hypocrite may lose out on the opportunity for consensus building because of the tension their criticism created. It also makes it difficult for people to speak their minds and share their opinions. I admire Senator McCain for putting forth an unpopular view and for voting, both times, according to his conscience, particularly since doing so likely added stress at an already challenging time for him with his recent health crisis.
Many people in this country are unaware that health care is even an issue on the table. This apathy is both a symptom and a cause of the type of partisanship we’re trapped in. How many people choose to remain uninvolved because the conversation often devolves into name-calling? It’s into this complex political situation that John McCain gracefully stepped, taking a stand for all of us so that both Congress and the nation might begin to pay attention and get down to the work that needs to be done. Whether you agree or disagree with either one of his votes, his message of collaboration should be the law that we are voting on right now.
This divisive behavior has us spinning our wheels without any progress; what we need to be doing is forgiving, and seeing the light and humanity in people despite our differences. I know from my experience in mental health advocacy that true bipartisanship is possible. I have sat with many Republican lawmakers who have lived with the devastation of addiction and mental illness in their families. They have moved, in the words of Patrick Kennedy, beyond the political into the personal, and it’s from that place that we all make our best decisions and do our most visionary work.
Personally, I am grateful for having experiences that have forced me to recognize the many shades of grey of our world and the people in it. Our motto at the Flawless Foundation is to see the perfection in every person and my relationships have been some of the best training ground to practice this philosophy. During the recent election, two very close friends voted differently than I did. My initial reaction was one of surprise, but I have so much admiration for these dear friends that we are able to engage in healthy dialogue without criticism. I am not saying it’s all hearts and flowers but I stay in a curious mode and try to refrain from judgment at all times. The fact that they voted for Trump doesn’t change them, but it changes me, as I am a more compassionate person because I have had to expand my heart and mind to embrace these differences.
Living in the grey requires the continual process of chipping away at our preconceptions, not only about those we believe are different, but also about those with whom we assume we are aligned. Last year, I was shocked by the skepticism and comments about my son’s school ― which happens to have been founded by Bill Koch, who is from a family known for their conservative politics ― from friends I considered open-minded and tolerant. This school is the kindest, most inclusive institution I’ve encountered in my career in education and youth advocacy, but sadly, black-and-white thinking keeps these liberal acquaintances of mine living in a bubble of judgment.
“Love wins.” “Choose love.” These phrases have become a bit commonplace and trite to some. But applied to the dark shadows of intractable divisiveness, love can move us to unify, one imperfect human being at a time. It may not happen overnight, but practicing the principles of compassion, forgiveness and collaboration can lead us toward the healing that this country needs.
Regardless of votes or politics, Senator McCain deserves our gratitude for embodying the highest hope for our nation, and passionately calling on all of us to take those daunting first steps towards peace through the doors of love.