On Solid Ground

  • Thursday, March 7, 2013

Will Haynie

Where love rules, there is no will to power, and where power predominates, love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other. ~ Carl Jung

Are we a divided America? If we are a divided America, perhaps it starts with divided communities. When I look around, I don’t so much see division among neighbors and citizens as I do division between people and their government at all levels.

I believe the root of this is the ancient battle between power and principle.

Power rules, it doesn’t lead. Power accomplishes by position and authority what cannot be accomplished through inspiration and influence. Power wants to force outcomes at the expense of freedom, and one thing power never exhibits is trust. A wise person once said, “You can build a throne with bayonets, but you can’t sit on it very long.” By contrast, principle leads. Principle inspires. Out of conviction, you live out your principles despite your position in life. Indeed, the times when you have little or no power are the times when living out your principles mean the most. Watching your children grow up is a vivid demonstration of this. As my two have moved into their 20s, I remember the moment it dawned on me that I had no more power over them, only influence. The memories that bring tears to my eyes are the moments when my children have lived out a principle I had tried to teach them, and better yet, demonstrated in my own life. There was the time when my son was in the eight grade and physically took on two much older and bigger boys who were bullying and hurting a seventh grade boy. The school counselor who came along and broke up the fight said he saved my son from certain harm, and that he had never seen a boy that much younger and smaller than the assailants jump in to help another boy like that.

Then there was the time when my daughter was in high school and saw a special needs student get all his books and papers knocked down and spread about the hall in the rush between classes. He stood there crying for help until she alone stopped and picked them up, hugging him and sending him safely on his way. I teared up when she recounted to me the helpless look on his face, alone and scared, wondering why no one helped. Is it any wonder that she has twice gone to Africa to seek out children who also need a hug?

These are proud moments, the kind of moments when you tell yourself that if you do nothing else right in this life, you’ve at least given the world two wonderful people.

But that’s what principle is. Principle is what you instill into those you love. It’s what is carried on long after you are gone.

But power? Where’s the legacy in that? Hitler had power. Stalin had power. It worked for both of them – for a little while. They sat for a while on their uncomfortable thrones of bayonets, and we all know where they led the world.

It seems there has never been more division or gridlock in government at all levels. Whether it is replacing a school on Sullivan’s Island or agreeing on a federal budget in Washington, it seems that the tension just keeps mounting. So throw out the labels of liberal, conservative, Democrat or Republican, and at every juncture, look for the principle. Whenever you see a law or regulation being considered, ask yourself, “Is this an affirmation of a principle, or is this just an exercise of power?” Maybe if we all ask ourselves that question, our elected official will get the principle.

Just maybe.

(Will Haynie has published more than 400 oped columns as a feature columnist for the Asheville Citizen-Times and the Hendersonville (N.C.) Times-News when it was owned by the New York Times. His niche is as a humorous conservative.)

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