04 Daddy playing checkers 5302009Column Gist: It seems that in America, we have created an atmosphere where productive discourse, supported by logical thought, hardly ever happens. Sadly, very few Americans seem to recognize the threat to our very existence that is posed by this condition.

I find it extremely difficult to identify individuals who disagree with my views but can still have a civil and equally respectful discussion of issues on which we disagree. In my writing, I come back to this topic very often. That is because I see an extremely troubled future for our nation if this condition is allowed to continue.

Coming to grips with this inability of our nation to get anywhere near correcting this ruinous atmosphere affects me in many ways. My father died in 2012 and, for many reasons, I miss him terribly. One of those reasons is that he and I were able to, despite our differing views, have civil, respectful and productive discussions about divisive issues on which we disagreed.

Daddy lived in Albany, Georgia, and I was in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Over the last 10 or so years of his life, we talked by phone at least once a week. If I did not call him, he would call me. Anytime he had to call me, I felt sad and guilty because, having been blessed with a wonderful father, he should not have had to initiate the weekly call. Sometimes he would get our voicemail. I still have some of his messages. He would always open with, “Hello, this is Daddy.”

I feel safe in describing my father as fiscally conservative, but socially liberal. For all of the years we had those weekly conversations, I was, and still am, conservative across the board. In those phone conversations, and in person on occasion, we addressed difficult topics. Even though his life was one of individual struggle from sharecropper to highly accomplished teacher, builder, preacher and pastor, Daddy was far more supportive of governmental assistance programs than I was or ever expect to be.

These differences in our thinking, and some were miles apart, did not make productive dialogue impossible. By “productive dialogue” I mean where each person is heard and prompted to serious thought regarding the issue and the parties work together toward actions that are fair, supported by reasonable consideration of facts and advance resolution of the issue at hand.

The great obstacle to this productive discussion process is that people set an agenda based on all the wrong motives, and then, in their discussions, the agenda rules. Because the discussions and interactions are driven by an agenda based on wrong motives, productive discussion is impossible.

Daddy did not have this problem. His motivation was an all-consuming desire to, as God directed, help people be the best they could be; his motivation was righteous. He focused on loving others, dealing fairly with all people and, above all, working an agenda that he felt called to by God. This approach made it possible for — even dictated that — Daddy to be civil, respectful and thoughtful even in discussions where others disagreed with him. This was my experience with Milton Wayne Merritt, Sr. I miss him.

Let me give a bit more attention to the danger posed by destructive agendas prompted by unrighteous motives. In our time, the examples abound, but, with me, give some thought to just one. We are in the midst of this devastating coronavirus. Still, reports are coming out indicating there is a move, primarily by Democrats, to start preparations to investigate the Trump administration’s response to this crisis. Consider the following segments from an article by Carol E. Lee, Courtney Kube and Leigh Ann Caldwell titled, “Informal discussions begin on 9/11-style commission on coronavirus response”:

“Informal discussions have begun on Capitol Hill about the possibility of creating a panel to scrutinize the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic that would be modeled on the commission that investigated the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, according to four people familiar with the discussions.

“They described the discussions as ‘very preliminary’ and involving mostly congressional Democrats.

“The review would focus on lessons learned about the government’s preparedness and what the administration could have handled better, they said, adding that the goal would be to come up with a better plan to handle a pandemic in the future.

“House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff says he is working on a draft of a bill to form a commission.

“’I don’t know that you would get administration buy-in for something like that,’ a senior administration official said. ‘Then, if the Democrats do one, it’s all one-sided.’”

“The bipartisan 9/11 Commission was created by legislation signed into law by President George W. Bush to review the government’s preparedness for and response to the 2001 terrorist attacks. It was formed a year after the attacks and two years before Bush was up for reelection.”

Trump is correct when he says that the coronavirus has put America in the midst of a war. After failing to destroy Trump through an extended and financially expensive Mueller investigation, a disruptive, foundationless, failed impeachment coupled with repeated obstruction of his every action on behalf of Americans, now Democrats want to start another investigation in the middle of a war that is raging within our borders.

I contend this conduct clearly illustrates the danger posed by destructive agendas prompted by unrighteous motives. The totality of Democratic actions, including this move toward an investigation, is motivated by an anything-goes quest for power that has resulted in a one-item agenda. That one item is to not only remove Trump from the presidency, but to destroy him. The result is a total lack of productive dialogue between Democrats and Republicans regarding any of the pressing issues facing our nation. This makes for a grim-looking future. The grimness of our future is compounded by the destructive tension among elected officials having spread to the general American population.

I contend, as a nation, we have far too little of what was key to Daddy’s productive dialogue with people who disagreed with him, and he with them. Whether spoken or not, he was always able to keep the shared values, interests, beliefs and experiences of discussion participants at the forefront. When he and I talked about issues on which we disagreed, he did not have to remind me of all that we shared: faith, desire to answer God’s call in our life, love of others and love of America. Because all of this, and even more, important positive shared stuff was present — the atmosphere for productive dialogue was set.

Based on my experiences with Daddy, I recommend that America’s leaders, and all of us, focus on all the important positive stuff that we share. Then, while remembering it, address the difficult issues that we face. My hope is that I can, in my challenging discussions, do a better job of practicing what Daddy demonstrated so well in our conversations. I hope and pray that others will join me.

Writing this column stirred some hope in me, but I still miss Daddy.

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