Today’s presidential inauguration is a reminder to me that most of us want the same things for our country. Prosperity, peace, opportunity, individual freedom, education, safety, rewarding work, good health, and a clean environment are just a few of the general goals I think all of us support. I believe, however, that we spend too little time considering the goals that unite us and too much time bickering over how to achieve them.
When my wife and I got married, we had long discussions about what we wanted to happen in our married life. We both wanted children, to finish our education, to have a decent home, to live in Oregon, and to be close to our extended family. The decisions we made focused on what we wanted to achieve, rather than on things where we had less agreement. I joined the Navy shortly after our marriage as a means to our agreed-upon ends and because I had a lifelong attachment to that branch of the service. My wife wasn’t as sure about the military option, but she saw the wisdom of accepting the risk of some protracted separations to accomplish our larger goals. I’m probably giving myself too much credit, but our choice to agree on certain goals and focus on accomplishing them helped us avoid a lot of arguments and achieve what was most important to us. I would add that we should never discount the importance of dumb luck and a convenient memory.
Those of us living in the U.S. today are looking at circumstances not all that different than what my wife and I faced 45 years ago. We have a strong base that includes general prosperity, educational opportunity, a relatively secure country, and a variety of paths to a successful future. There are at least as many problems and ways to fail as there are strengths; but we are, by most measures, if not the strongest, at least among the strongest countries in the world. Unlike many of the places I’ve visited over the past two decades, our starting point is not bad.
You would think that if we have a fairly strong consensus about where we want to go (paragraph 1) and where we are now (paragraph 3), figuring out how to get there wouldn’t be all that difficult. My hope for our community and our country is that while we vigorously debate the means to our many agreed-upon ends, we will not lose sight of what’s most important. We can choose to focus on all that divides us or we can agree to disagree on many of the “hows” and remember the primacy of the “whats.”