I am sharing this article by my friend and colleague, Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin. What do you think?
Over the years I’ve probably watched 35 or 40 State of the Union Addresses and I must admit, the pundits are right–this one was different. Not so much because of what the President said, but because of the more subdued and civil atmosphere in the room. The simple fact that so many Republicans, Democrats and Independents chose to sit together, rather than on opposite sides of the aisle, did indeed seem to make a real difference in how they behaved.
Once word got around that the very liberal Democrat from New York, Chuck Schummer, was going to sit with conservative Republican Tom Coburn from Oklahoma, the idea caught on, and others followed suit. As the cameras scanned the audience, there were many rather “odd” couples like Democrat John Kerry sitting next to Republican John McCain. It was, frankly, refreshing.
As I’ve thought about it over the last few days, an old bumper sticker came to mind: “Think Globally, Act Locally.” The House and the Senate must constantly be thinking in global terms. Indeed, we heard many references in the speech to global and national issues: the global economy, the global war against terrorism, the need to compete in a global market. And we heard many broad stroke reminders of the need for all Americans to get along, to cooperate, to pull together. But such all-encompassing efforts need to start somewhere, and for our elected representatives in the House and Senate, it doesn’t get any more local than who you sit next to in the halls of congress. The President was right when we noted, “What comes of this moment will be determined not bu whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow.” Seating arrangements won’t solve the nation’s problems, large or small, but its a good, symbolic first step.
It also strikes me that we all could choose to follow this example. How often do we choose to sit next to folks we know, folks with whom we are comfortable. I see it every week as I look out across the pews on Friday nights. I see it at social gatherings, especially wedding receptions! I see it in classrooms and at meetings. We often sit with those we know best. But what if we made a conscious effort to literally sit next to the stranger, or the one we barely know, or even the one with whom we are often at odds? What if we were willing to really get to know one another a bit better?
The late Tip O’Neil, Speaker of the House for many years, famously said, “All politics is local.” And he was right. But its bigger than that. In the end, all life is local.