To Compromise or Conquer

We have two separate holidays this weekend. The first is the “Fourth of July,” which marks a weekend many Americans fill with parties and Chinese fireworks …and visits to the Emergency Room (be careful out there, folks).

The second holiday is Independence Day. As we celebrate the bloody wrenching of our freedoms from the greedy hands of a selfish tyrant, this day also seems to mark the beginning of a poignant reconciliation story that finds America and England in 2024 as steadfast allies and trusted friends. History shows us that even the deepest divides can be healed.

After the devastating Civil War, the Union and the Confederacy reconciled, laying the foundation for a stronger, unified country. We can still see obvious tears in our national fabric, but we are ever so slowly repairing them, stitch by stitch. And when our nation is whole and unified once more, the repairs will remain visible. These scars will remind us not only of the fight, but the reconciliation. We are stronger for having won the fight. We will be even stronger still for working together on the repair.

Consider the story of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Despite their close friendship and collaboration on drafting the Declaration of Independence (a fiery read!) their political differences eventually tore them apart. After Jefferson defeated Adams in the 1800 election, Adams bitterly retired to his farm in Massachusetts, feeling deeply betrayed by his former friend and colleague. They remained estranged for years until their mutual friend encouraged them to communicate again.

Adams took the bold step of writing Jefferson that first cordial letter. Jefferson responded graciously. It is safe to say that they reconciled. By the time they died, the two rivals exchanged 158 letters that explored their politics, philosophies, and reflections on their shared history. Their renewed friendship became a testament to the possibility of overcoming even the most entrenched animosities. In a delicious twist of fate, both Adams and Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. “Thomas Jefferson survives,” are reported to be the last words of John Adams. He did not know that Jefferson had passed away just a few hours earlier.

These historical examples offer valuable lessons for our personal and professional lives. Closer to home, consider the story of two divorced parents who, despite a separation that left them emotionally injured and lacking trust in each other, choose to repair their relationship for the sake of their children. By recognizing the higher purpose of prioritizing and preserving the good aspects of their family, they put the painful past in the rear-view mirror – able to be seen, but not blocking their forward progress. In doing so, this couple fosters a supportive, nurturing, and largely unified family. America does not have to remain locked in a bitter custody battle. If we focus on our common goals and shared values, we can transform our American relationship from discord to cooperation and mutual respect.

We face so much conflict and division today that it can feel like a new American normal. REJECT THAT NOTION. America was built by a fraught and fretful group that came into an understanding that the American ideal—the revolutionary concept—was to compromise and not to conquer. The American ideal—the compromise we struck—calls us to seek unity, to mend relationships, and to strengthen the ties that bind us.

This Independence Day, remember that true independence is not just about achieving self-determination or freedom from external controls; independence gives us the freedom to connect, forgive, and unite. We can honor the legacy of those who have worked for connection, forgiveness, and unity by carrying on in their labor. We can build a more harmonious and resilient society. We will find justice in America only when we stop tearing each other down and start holding each other up.

Let us use this day to reflect on how we can achieve unity in our own lives, our communities, and in our tattered nation. Let us open our hands to those with whom we are estranged, let us open our eyes to understanding that which confuses or angers us, let us set down our muskets and pick up the needle and thread.

As always,