Eric Frydenlund: America is more distracted than divided | Column






Eric Fridenlund


PRAIRIE DU CHIEN – A full moon is in the night sky as I write this. The moon appeared over my left shoulder as I walked home earlier tonight. The glowing orb hung in a blanket of darkness and gave me a sense of calm and wholeness.

Wholeness is refreshing in our earthly world of seemingly endless division. It seems the only thing we can agree on is that we are hopelessly divided.

I do not agree. We are more perpetually distracted than hopelessly divided. We are distracted from what is important: our family and our friends. Our community.

My wife and I were returning from Belleville, on the Dane and Green county line, where we watched my grandchildren play baseball and softball, a simple pleasure that might mean little in a world full of news important of the day. Yet family is the force that unites us all in a mutual cause that transcends all others.

Our distraction starts with the way we talk to each other, especially in the public space. Social media and political discourse tear us apart with violent words that beget violent actions and provide us with valuable examples of constructive dialogue. This “conversation” is often driven by our emotions rather than our minds.

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Lynn Schmidt, columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, advocates elevating our words.

“Something has been sorely lacking in the United States over the past decade – booming rhetoric,” she wrote in a recent column published by the Wisconsin State Journal. “We lack leaders who, like Abraham Lincoln, call on our best angels through their ability to craft rhetoric that resonates in people’s hearts and minds…. America needs to find leaders who are adept at the art of rhetoric while promoting our democratic principles, not just communicating confrontationally via social media or cable news clips.

Leaders who divide command an audience. The American media and its observers are obsessed with the red and blue lines that divide our nation. I understand the metaphor — the colors associated with a political conviction. But like the sun illuminating a quarter moon, partisan politics illuminates only a small part of us. Our totality as human beings remains hidden in shadow.

Paulo Coelho, author of the highly acclaimed “The Alchemist”, says in his companion novel “The Pilgrimage”, that “the true path to wisdom…must have a practical application in your life. Otherwise, wisdom becomes a thing useless… and ultimately, it must be a path that anyone can follow.

Political “wisdom” has very little to do with our daily lives, and it doesn’t seem so “wise” if it can only be followed by adherents to an ideology. True wisdom is universal and can be shared by all.

My friends and I often have friendly arguments over the prospects of our favorite sports teams, whose prospects rise and fall with the trajectory of a bullet. Likewise, our political discussions, with opinions expressed across a broad political spectrum, range from optimism to pessimism. This world has room for both optimists and pessimists, provided the feeling is expressed through words and not through violence.

My friend, Keith Govier, a former Grant County sheriff in southwestern Wisconsin who ran on the Republican ticket, offered insight into our speech.

“Our use of words can unite or divide,” he said. “Liberals and conservatives love our liberties and liberty, but they seem to define those words differently. In a way, both sides fighting are celebrating the same thing, our freedoms.

My father was involved in politics, if you can call a nonpartisan county council “political.” He sought in his own way to “serve the greater good,” while maintaining goodwill toward those around him who held different opinions.

He was defeated in his last election. I remember his opponent, Chuck Elvert, calling me to tell me how much he respected my father. I found it noble, and also universal in its generosity.

A few days later, the moon I observed that night is waning. I still feel its fullness, and the totality of the people it shines on.

Frydenlund lives in Prairie du Chien: [email protected]

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