An annual tradition in our family is to go to Mohonk Mountain House on President’s Day weekend. It’s a tradition started by my wife’s father and stepmother and we are happy to take part in it.
This year Mohonk Mountain House is celebrating its 150th anniversary (called a sesquicentennial if you want to use a big word and impress yourself). As part of its observation of this milestone, the historic resort plans to create a time capsule to be opened in 100 years. They invited all of their guests to fill out postcards to be sent 100 years into the future, presumably to be poured over by historians or glanced at by bemused guests in the next century.
One hundred years ago, much of the Western world was still recovering from the First World War, though no one would have called it that at the time because another 20 years would pass before the next World War would start. World War I was called simply “The Great War,” and Western civilization had not seen anything like it. Technology had helped nations create weapons that had not been used in large scale before and casualties were enormous. In fact, there are still areas of France off limits today because of the plethora of unexploded ordinance from the First World War.
Today our world is not in the after math of a great war but rather adjusting to the dissolution of the world order that was began after the Second World War. We have a new dominant world power in China and the world’s greatest superpower, the U.S., deeply divided. There is no shortage of conflict in the world that is taking a drastic human toll.
The world is still a scary, violent place, just in different ways than it was in 1919. We didn’t have mass school shootings in the U.S. in 1919, but we had a flu pandemic that killed more than 180,000 people. We didn’t have MS-13 gangs, but we still had anarchist bombings and labor and race riots. It’s not a bold statement to say that the world of 2119 will be frightening to the historical researchers who read our Mohonk postcards. Between now and then the world will change dramatically in ways we can’t predict, but human nature and the existence of conflict will remain.
But what is also constant, and what I tried to convey in the card, is that while conflict is never ending, so is hope and the human drive for improvement. As long as people have killed one another and destroyed past civilizations with sloth and greed, they have also constructed new communities and sought out the better angels of their natures.
In the postcard we left for the 100-year time capsule at Mohonk, I wrote to a future that would be as conflicted and fearful as our own. I conveyed to them that now, as will be the case then, people gathered to see the beauty of nature and share good times with the people they loved.
I added our postcard to the gathering mass of missives to the future, hopeful that maybe one of my great grandchildren will be enjoying some time at the Mohonk Mountain House and get to read our note from the past.
Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were forced to say nice things about each other at the end of their most recent televised debate. It was the highlight of the debate and the question each candidate did the best at answering in my opinion.
There are deep ideological and cultural rifts coursing through this country, though is probably most consensus on things than people realize. Still, our politics reflect that and why shouldn’t they? There’s not a lot of consensus on things and we’re going to have to fight it out in the area of our legislatures and other corridors of power.
I submit this idea: there is more damage done by people trying to avoid fights than by engaging in them. Honestly think about that. We’re all so afraid of conflict that we will upend our lives to avoid them rather than face them head-on. Why?
Years ago when I was in college, I was active in a debate society and one of the officers was impeached and put on trial. It was trivial stuff that college kids love to blow out of proportion, but an entire meeting that would normally have been dedicated to debating the issues of the day was spent putting someone on trial with counsel and a judge and the society membership acting as jury. Debating the fate of the officer lasted into the wee hours of the morning, and he was convicted of several offenses but then not removed from office. Discussing this a year or so later, a member of a rival debate society thought this was the worst thing ever and boasted that this would never happen among their member. I told him, in the most diplomatic terms possible, that he was full of shit.
A life devoid of conflict is not life at all. And life is about resolving conflict, not avoiding it. What appeared to outsiders as a fratricidal bloodletting was business as usual for our group. We thrived on debate and emerged from the impeachment ordeal stronger and better. Sure there were hurt feelings and bruised egos; when aren’t there. A real debate society will never turn down an opportunity to debate.
Our state of politics is the same. It’s not comforting that the U.S. has widely disliked candidates heading our major parties’ tickets. But let’s have it out politically and fight our fights. Of course it’s going to get negative and nasty. Our statesmen of old were every bit as negative and back-biting as our politicians of today. The difference is that they didn’t pose and shirk their responsibilities to engage and fight it. That’s how things move forward. You’re not going to win every fight; but a battered fighter is worth ten times an unscathed coward.
Our Congress can block things and refuse to allow Supreme Court candidates or other candidates for important positions to come to a vote. That’s the most wuss thing you can do. Do you not want a candidate to hold office? Vote against them. Take a stand and let the chips fall where they may.
When battle lines are drawn, advance upon them, don’t retreat. Great nations were never built by people who avoided fighting for what they wanted.