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A great Christmas gift: civility and respect

Posted: December 23, 2012 - 1:01am

As a public official, citizen and father, I have lost a fragment of my faith these past few days. Not just because of the tragedy in a small Connecticut town, the reporting of which I cannot even bring myself to watch, but also in many of my leaders and neighbor’s reaction to the blow – their first instincts being finger-pointing and defensive posturing over their respective agendas.

I don’t think one person has been untouched by recent events. It is so epic in scale that I lack the scope to understand its full toll. But we as a society cannot allow tragedy, however heinous, to continue dividing us as a people along our widening political differences. We should not allow the acts of a sad, evil handful of those possessed with demons to dictate to us, through knee-jerk reactions, instant changes of law that will affect core beliefs on how the rest of us live our lives.

There are real issues here needing to be dealt with. We must address them through calm, studied, sensible discussion and debate – over the yells of those who would panic into reckless action, or those who, just as damning, would refuse any action out of a myopic fear of change.

The term “let cooler heads prevail” is all but forgotten in our fast-paced world of instant gratification and over-dramatized lifestyles. We’ve gone from mail, to email, to instant messaging in a decade. But governance cannot move that fast – and shouldn’t. Congress should not be the Jerry Springer Show. We’ve gone from deliberated compromise to obstinate absolutism in our opinions and in our politics.

I had these thoughts when I read this week that we had lost a true American hero. Hawaiian Sen. Daniel Inouye died in his bed at 88. He was the first Japanese-American to serve in Congress, but I doubt that he ever referred to himself as anything other than American.

Please allow me to retell a story from his life, from a 2000 New York Times story:

On April 21, 1945, weeks before the end of the war in Europe, Inouye led an assault near San Terenzo, Italy. His platoon was pinned down by three German machine gun nests. Charging forward up the hill, he was shot in the stomach but continued to advance and destroyed one emplacement with a hand grenade and another with his submachine gun.

He was crawling toward the third when enemy fire nearly severed his right arm – leaving a grenade, in his words, “clenched in a fist that suddenly didn’t belong to me anymore.” He pried the grenade loose from his dead right hand, threw it with his left and destroyed the third bunker. Stumbling forward, he silenced resistance with gun bursts before being hit in the leg and collapsing unconscious. His mutilated right arm was later amputated in a field hospital, but his squad took the ridge.

For that action he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, later upgraded to the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Daniel Inouye was a Democrat, and I wager that many of us here in Columbia County would vehemently disagree with his politics. But how could you not respect such a man enough to be willing to listen to his opinion and not dismiss it outright because he “wasn’t on your team”? How have we come to the point as Americans where simply refusing to listen to another’s viewpoint is preferable to working out our differences?

I ask that in this, the most holy season of peace and goodwill, that we as Americans endeavor to put aside our political differences for the coming year and work together for the benefit of our community and our nation. We need not give up our principles, and we can agree to disagree on occasion – but always attempting to do so with respect, civility and understanding of our fellow man.

Help me to restore faith in all of us. That would be a Christmas present worth getting.

(Columbia County Commissioner Trey Allen represents District 2.)

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