‘Our true genius is for compromise’

My wife and I had the pleasure of attending Senator Judd Gregg’s presentation last Tuesday night at the inaugural Walter Peterson Forum for Civil Discourse. Like many citizens, we are both disappointed by the uncivil nature of not only national, but local politics as well.

Senator Gregg rightly reminded his audience that this discourse is nothing new in American history. Attacks in the press of the day against Presidents Washington and Adams were even more vitriolic in nature than much of what is printed today. But, Senator Gregg’s remarks reminded us that the better interests of America and society in general are best served when all voices are heard, without the rancor associated with the extremists from both sides of the aisle.

This week marks the 25th year anniversary of my moving to the Monadnock region to take a job at Brookstone when it was located in Peterborough. During the past quarter century, living first in Rindge and now in Dublin, I’ve witnessed many local debates that sadly showed how intolerant many citizens of the region are to civil discussions. The most memorable of these was the “debate” about 10 years ago in the Peterborough Town Hall over allowing a supermarket to be built across from the bowling alley on Elm Street. I was not in attendance, but the reports in the Ledger-Transcript stated that every time a resident attempted to speak in favor of the project, they were loudly booed and drown out by noise from the opponents. The actions of the crowd were so bad, that Dr. Richard Frechette, a local Boy Scout leader who had taken his troop to the meeting to witness “democracy in action,” later wrote a letter to the editor stating how disappointing the whole episode was as a reflection of adults engaging is civil discussions.

Both conservatives and liberals can be closed minded, especially when they sense they have the security of being in the majority. However, what I find most troubling are liberals who profess to celebrate tolerance of other views, but who always seem amazed that there are other views. When this happens, there is never room for discussion, debate, or compromise.

The great Civil War historian Shelby Foote was asked why the differences separating the North and South finally resulted in the Civil War. He replied, “It was because we failed to do the thing we really have a genius for, which is compromise. Americans like to think of themselves as uncompromising. Our true genius is for compromise. Our whole government’s founded on it. And, it failed.”

Regardless of our political and philosophical beliefs, we must all remember to compromise — it is the greatest strength of a civil society. But to get there, every voice must be heard in open, civil debate.

Bill LaPierre lives in Dublin.

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