Last week's round of acrimonious decision-making in Washington sent me back to the Bible in search of a more elevated view of human nature. In the beginning, I found little comfort. According to Genesis, there resides within the heart an inherent tendency to hold some one else at fault when things go wrong. Adam blamed Eve when he was questioned about eating the apple from the forbidden tree. "She gave me the fruit," he complained to the Lord. Adam blamed Eve, who, in turn, blamed the snake. "The serpent tricked me, and I ate," she said. If the snake had appeared on Oprah, he probably would have blamed his mother for his conniving nature.
A friend recovering from a painful divorce tells me that the turning point for him came when he was able to move from blaming his former wife to feeling responsible for his new life, while finally owning up to the role he played in the breakdown of his marriage. "I hate to admit it," he said, "but rarely is anything just one person's fault." Yes, we are prone to self-righteousness, but there is also within us the God-given capacity to rise above the lesser angels of our character.
Right now, a pernicious season of back-and-forth blaming has settled over our land. In Washington, the Democrats blame the Republicans for the stalemated state of affairs. The Republicans blame the Democrats. Last week, Harry Reid derided John Boehner on the floor of the Senate. It is reported that in retaliation, the Speaker used an expletive to insult the Majority Leader when the two crossed paths in the halls of the White House.
Can't our leaders do better than this? So far, not yet.
The House did finally take emergency action to avoid immediate fiscal cliff catastrophe, but huge issues regarding the debt ceiling were kicked down the road for the new Congress to address.
Action on legislation to aid victims of Hurricane Sandy was stalled. Each side vociferously faulted the other for that inexcusable impasse; meanwhile, real people continue to suffer in major ways two months after the storm.
On the day Congress adjourned, an elderly New Jersey woman sat in her water damaged living room and lamented to a television reporter, "It's hard when you realize you are not backed by the country you live in."
A young New York man wearing a knit cap on his head and frustration in his heart summed up the situation succinctly, "Politics have become more important than people."
Can't we do better than this? So far, not yet.
I long for leaders who demonstrate a higher moral development than Adam and Eve. It really is possible to grow beyond arguing over whose shovel is whose in the sand box.
I long for leaders who can leave behind their unbending self-righteousness and move toward finding a way forward together. We are, after all, the United States of America.
I long to live in a nation in which righteousness means listening to the pleas of the poor, the homeless and the dispossessed, caring for the stranger, and protecting the innocent and the vulnerable. A nation that forgets the primacy of these core moral requirements will not endure over the long haul, or even in the short run.
May the better angels of our nature prevail. Soon.