Guest Columnist

It's not freedom or mandate; it's freedom and mandate

Divorce may be healthy conflict resolution in some contexts, but I hope America can remain one country.

An American flag is seen reflected in windows at a Cedar Rapids high school on Friday, May 8, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gaz
An American flag is seen reflected in windows at a Cedar Rapids high school on Friday, May 8, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

Humility is the key to healing our nation. It does not exist in our current political discourse. What we have, instead, is absolutism: “If you disagree with me, you are a Bad American. If you agree with me, you are Good.” There is no middle ground. It must be reclaimed.

Divorce may be healthy conflict resolution in some contexts, but I hope America can remain one country.

Humility requires an acknowledgment of fallibility. If we can’t admit we may be wrong, we ain’t goin nowhere fast, as an old coach of mine used to say.

But let’s cut to the chase with an example that tests the ultimate moral limits of such a philosophy: physical assault.

Is there a moderate level of violence that is tolerable? Can we create legitimate scenarios wherein both offensive and defensive acts of violence are justified? How do you respond to people whose worldview believes that “Revenge Is Justice?” All I can do with my worldview is encourage people to consider choices other than violence as a response to violence. And, most importantly, walk the talk by modeling those choices in my own life.

As a facilitator for the Linn County Board of Supervisors Food Systems Council, I recently shared a favorite community meeting introduction I like called The Code of Humility.

It sets the table and tone of any meeting by having all participants check their egos at the door and read the phrase: “I’m not always right. You’re not always right. Let’s nurture trust, meet one another in the middle, and build from there.”

Purists, on any issue, divide. Compromisers unite. I must use the time and energy I have in this short life to build bridges, not walls.

When I studied political science as an undergraduate at Iowa State University in the early 80s, most of our classes seemed to end by wrestling with the question “What is the proper role of government?”

Pick your issue. The Right says, “Keep government out of my life,” and the Left says, “Not so fast — there’s a place for government to intervene in your life.”

It’s Freedom vs. Mandate (with plenty of convenient hypocrisy to go around on both sides of the aisle).

We need to rephrase the debate beyond the limiting trap of duality. It’s not freedom or mandate; it’s freedom and mandate. Humble thyself.

I have a vision for a local project I call “Break Bread Together.” It is born of the conviction that if we had more opportunities to sit down with our political opposites and just share a meal, a focus on common humanity and peace could germinate. To avoid a food fight, the only ground rule would be no talking about politics. Just gather ‘round the table, eat, get to know one another as humans, and realize the civility of that simple common ground act.

We all eat. Let’s start there, deliberately and consistently inviting those with whom we disagree vehemently to a meal, and I guarantee we will slowly witness the birth of healing.

If our collective answer to the question “What are we willing to compromise?” is “Nothing,” that’s exactly what we’ll get.

Scott Koepke farms in Marion.

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