My wife and I love to spend time in the wilderness. A few years ago we were canoeing in Quetico Provincial Park in Canada, a very remote park that is only accessible by canoe. One summer day we were canoeing across a very large lake, probably a mile across, looking for our next place to set up camp and it was getting late. We were in the middle of the lake, with a fully loaded canoe and were already somewhat anxious about finding the portage that would allow us to get to the next lake, our destination for the day. Suddenly, I noticed that a storm had come up behind us; the sky got increasingly dark and the temperature dropped. Soon there was lightening in the distance, and we both knew the last place we wanted to be at that moment was in the middle of a large body of water.
So what did we do? We did what any two people would do in such a situation. We started to argue with each other! I think I raised my voice first. “I told you there was a chance of a storm and that we shouldn’t have come out here today!” Soon the shouting went back and forth, “Why aren’t you paddling harder?!” “Don’t paddle on the left, paddle on the right!” “Don’t you know how to read the map?” “Don’t head for that part of the shore–go in this direction!”
After several minutes of this, there was silence, which was soon broken by joint laughter. Fortunately, at that moment, we realized that we were not really mad at each other at all, but that the approaching storm had scared us both so much that we began to turn against each other. The storm was the “problem” and yet in the midst of our anxiety we had temporarily made each other the “problem.”
Whenever a group of people find themselves in the midst of a “storm” they are vulnerable to turning against one another rather than working together. Perhaps this is one factor in understanding why this most recent election season was so negative and polarizing. Our country is in the midst of a prolonged economic “storm” that is taking a toll on many individuals and families. In the midst of that storm it is easy to turn against one another and to cast blame on the other person, the other party, for the storm.
“You (your party) got us into this mess!”
“We need more paddling on the left!”
“No we don’t–we need more paddling on the right!”
“You are heading in the wrong direction–what are you thinking?!”
All groups of people are vulnerable to turning against one another in the midst of adversity. This includes couples, families, organizations, work teams, sports teams, and communities as a whole. At such times we need to remember to take a step back and get a larger perspective. Even when people are feeling strongly divided, there is usually more that unites them than that which is currently dividing them. Mitt Romney spoke to this powerful truth in his gracious concession speech on Tuesday night. He reminded us all of the greater principles that transcend partisan politics and unite us all. He called on leaders of all kinds–economic, spiritual, community and family–to focus on the higher principles on which this nation is based:honest, charity, integrity, and family.
My wife and I realized something important that day we were canoeing in the midst of a fierce storm. We were in that boat together and our ability to survive the storm and make it safely to shore depended on us working together. There needed to be strong paddling on the both the left and right side of the boat because if all the paddling is done on one side of the boat it will go around in circles.
Now that the fierce storm of this election has passed, leaders from both parties are calling for a renewed effort to work together, focussing on that which unites us in order to address the storms that we all face together. May we join with them in our commitment to do the same, not just in our politics, but in our families and friendships as well. Really, we are all in this boat of life together!