Whether real or perceived, and I think it is real, the nation has never been more polarized. Venom spews from both the left and the right with arguments marshalled to great strategic advantage. Many of us feel sad about this state of affairs where lines are so severely and absolutely drawn. In the meantime, huge challenges await thoughtful leaders dedicated to move beyond partisanship to find real solutions.
I have my own thoughts as to how we got here and have evolved to this unpleasant moment. Whether our nation is becoming ungovernable is another question that will become apparent one way or another over these next years. But, I am writing for another reason…a hopeful one.
It is a cliché to recall that it is always ‘darkest before the dawn.’ Yet, it is frequently true.
In the 80s, I recall meeting a state department official by the name of Dr. Harold Saunders. Hal was Assistant Secretary of State for Middle Eastern Affairs, so he was no stranger to the bitterness and rancor surrounding the Israel Palestine impasse. He would tell me for hours of his work with Kissinger to find solutions that might create space for some accommodation in this explosive part of the world. One of the administration’s goals at that time was to find one Arab nation that would recognize the state of Israel…a truly impossible task. And then ‘it’ happened.
Unexpected and shocking to the world, President Anwar El Sadat of Egypt, flew to Israel; he landed at Ben Gurion airport on November 19, 1977. Sadat was the first Arab leader ever to visit the Jewish state. He was greeted by former Jewish freedom fighter and Israeli Prime Minister, Menachim Begin, with a 21 gun salute. After the two met, Sadat addressed the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, for a speech broadcast to hundreds of millions worldwide. Unbelievable!!
The world was speechless.
Four wars had been fought between these two nations and Israel still occupied the Sinai Peninsula, a part of Egypt captured in the 1967 war. This indeed was a special moment which eventually led to full diplomatic relations between the two countries. Sadat paid a dear price…isolation from the Arab world and eventual assassination. Prior to that, the two men were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978.
My friend and Chief Middle East negotiator called this act by Sadat, a “prophetic moment.” In other words, there was absolutely no expectation or remote belief that such a thing could ever occur. And yet, it did.
In 1946, Winston Churchill spoke to this type of circumstance. A belief that sometimes things just happen and change everything. While receiving the Freedom of Westminster Award at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, Churchill, the great man, said the following:
“The human story does not always unfold like an arithmetical calculation, the principle that two and two make four…The element of the unexpected and the unforeseeable is what gives some of its relish to life and saves us from falling into the mechanical thralldom of logicians.”
Former civil rights leader and Ambassador to the UN, Andrew Young, named his autobiography A Way Out of No Way. This was drawn from the old Negro spiritual of the same name and was rooted in a belief that God will make a way when none seems to exist.
Surprise, mystery and risk are the wild cards that can change everything. When a nation or person does something unexpected for good, sometimes the way opens up and everything changes. We live in times where we desperately need leaders on every level to do the right thing, the unexpected thing and believe that this will be rewarded. Perhaps not in the short term - yet eventually.
Can you imagine in the context of tribal retribution and score settling, a young Jesus said, “Love your enemy.” That truth has indeed changed the world and has inspired leaders from Martin Luther King to Ghandi to do the unexpected, and by that - change everything.