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Congressman’s View: As new year begins, let our goal be civility

By Congressman Emanuel Cleaver

There is something about the holiday season that seems to inspire us with hope. Without a doubt, this is a time of year that can be difficult. Inevitably, each year brings with it a dose of disappointment, frustration, sometimes, even utter heartbreak. But it is always darkest before the dawn. And the holiday season, along with the promise of a new year, seems to also pledge a new beginning.
For me, Christmas is a magical time. A time, to be sure, to resist being overtaken by the notion of a jolly man dressed in red, frantic purchases, and frazzled nerves. Instead, despite the hubbub of this time of year, I try to create moments of silence, in order to remember and celebrate the real meaning of the season. Amidst the daily struggles and stresses of life, there is good. Amidst the barrage of the unbelievable and tragic, there is reason to rejoice. And amidst the uncertainty of the future, there is faith. And always, there is hope.
I have told you the story of the man with a flat tire on the dark road in Texas. It was before the days of constant connectivity of cell phones. He walked and walked, and finally saw a small farmhouse in the distance. His mind immediately began to pound him with negative thoughts. Would they answer their door for a stranger? Would they trust his story and let him in? If so, would they allow him to use their phone? Surely the answers to these questions would all be a resounding NO! He was quite sure of that. And that made him angry.
By the time the smiling man inside the little farmhouse answered the door, the stranded man had already convinced himself of the other’s mistrust, prejudices, and lack of helpfulness. As the door creaked open, and before a single word was spoken, the stranded man screamed out in mad frustration,“You paranoid country bumpkin! I don’t want to use your phone anyway!”
I love this story, as I think it speaks so accurately to not only our political divisions, but our individual preconceived notions of one another and our general stereotypes. So crippling and present are these in our lives sometimes, we often miss wonderful opportunities to broaden our horizons, create new relationships, and work together for the greater good. We certainly do it in Washington. A rabidly partisan Congress moving from crisis to crisis, refusing to break through barriers, call a ceasefire to the war of words, and get down to business.
What a waste! How much are we all losing – individually, and as a nation? How can burning bridges before we even get to them be a smart course of action?
As we move together into 2014, one of my greatest hopes is that civility to and with one another will become the norm, instead of the exception. Truly taking time to get to know a person, an opinion, or a way of life, is certainly more difficult in the short term, but absolutely more hopeful for the future.
I wish each and every one of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday Season. I look forward to plunging into 2014 – together – with high hopes, hard work, and a renewed commitment to civility.

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