It’s ironic that in the days before his death, I’d been thinking a lot about George H.W. Bush. I had watched a documentary about his presidency and I was reminded that 41 wanted us to create a “kinder and gentler” nation.
“Prosperity with a purpose means taking your idealism and making it concrete by certain acts of goodness,” Bush said, in accepting the nomination at the 1988 Republican National Convention. “It means helping a child from an unhappy home learn how to read … It means teaching troubled children through your presence that there is such a thing as reliable love. Some would say it's soft and insufficiently tough to care about these things. But where is it written that we must act as if we do not care, as if we are not moved? Well, I am moved. I want a kinder and gentler nation.”
You may not have agreed with George the First’ politics. It’s not as if his presidency was without controversies. In the same acceptance speech, he famously said, “Read my lips. No new taxes.” But ultimately, he was forced to do just that late in his presidency.
But Bush’s desire that all of us be kinder and gentler no doubt was heartfelt. His presidency was, really, the last one we’ve seen that championed civility, compromise and bipartisanship. After Bill Clinton replaced him as president and Newt Gingrich came along as speaker of the house, a strategy of aggression and division invaded our government, a strategy made even worse in recent years.
We’ve let Bush down, of course. In the years since Bush’s presidency, we haven’t become either kinder or gentler. Fueled by anonymous Internet comments, social media and talk radio, you can make an argument that we’ve become meaner and rougher. Our politicians aren’t helping matters, either.
There’s no question many of us hate the people in the other political party from our own. Parents get into fights at their child’s sporting events. Shoppers argue over parking spots at the mall. More often than they should, these disagreements turn violent.
Why do we hate people who simply disagree with us on a political issue? Why don’t we realize there are probably many other things about those people that we might enjoy?
I think Bush was right. We ought to be a kinder and gentler nation. We ought to love and support our fellow man. So what if he thinks differently than we do. Do we really want a world where everyone thinks the same thing? I do not.
Of course, being kinder and gentler takes a lot of work, and many of us are already stressed out over our daily responsibilities. So I suggest that everyone just take a few areas in which they promise, over the next year, to be kinder and gentler.
Look for ways to help people in your community who might not be as prosperous as you. Don’t jump to negative conclusions about the person you see in the checkout line. Be willing to help, not attack, someone different from yourself.
This week, Washington is shutting down Wednesday for a national day of mourning. Our government is pausing to honor a president from another era for being everything it no longer is. Or strives to become.
But it can be. We can be a strong country. We can be a respected country. And we can be a kinder county. These are not contradictions.
So let’s make it happen.