Negativity, Factionalism Undercut Trust and Prosperity

A lament posted on Facebook by a retired teacher from Madison County: “I will NOT vote for anyone who can only use negative remarks about their opposition instead of their qualifications for the office. I thought that was the reason for running for a political office. SHOW ME YOUR CREDENTIALS.”

Keeping that in mind, consider this. A friend who teaches entrepreneurship worldwide has conducted a study of the characteristics of nations and their poverty levels. He said his research shows that nations that practice Christian values are more prosperous and have less poverty. His working thesis is that there is greater mutual trust and neighbor-helping-neighbor in such countries.

Paul addressed both of these points in Romans (14:13, 19 ESV): “Let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother….So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”

Our founding fathers promoted the concepts in Paul’s message. For example, President George Washington’s unforgettable Farewell Address weaves these concepts throughout.

Washington counseled against “misrepresentations” by “designing men,” saying, “You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heartburnings which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection.”

Later he said, “And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

So, 219 years after Washington’s message how well have we done?

Misrepresentations abound in politics. Indeed, modern political campaigns are designed to attack opponents’ character, credibility, and credentials. Such messages gain more social and traditional media coverage than positive messages. And, we seem to respond to negativity more than we do to positiveness, e.g., today’s Republican presidential candidates gain more in polls when they go on the attack.

Mounting portions of our population grow up without moral or civic instruction. Those who profess Christian values are in decline and those who practice such values even more so. Indeed, our society tolerates, or perhaps prefers, immorality as indicated by the rise of sexuality and profanity in movies, advertising, and music videos. At the same time, American prosperity is fragmenting, e.g. more people qualify for food stamps than ever before.

We tend to be more divided, more hateful, and less willing to work together or seek mutual benefit than in years past.

The dominance of one faction over another, especially when motivated by revenge, “is a frightful despotism,” warned Washington.

We will only reverse course when we discipline ourselves and sway others to choose local, state, and national leaders willing to “pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”

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