During my eight years serving in Congress, I made it a point to be on the Congressional baseball team. Every summer at this time, partisanship was put aside, and regardless of political philosophies, Republicans and Democrats came together for the love of the game and to raise money for charity. Until June 14, 2017, no one outside of DC really ever paid any attention to this annual event. Yet on that date, a shooting on our baseball practice field nearly cost Congressman Steve Scalise his life. For me, it was a moment of Divine intervention. I had a doctor’s appointment that morning and missed the deadly practice. But what transpired the next few weeks impacted my outlook on the American people as their passion and desire to unite a troubled and torn nation came together.
Today, as we endure through this time of self quarantine, repetitive hand washings and social distancing, America is again coming together exhibiting acts of selfless behavior. Yes, there are political overtones over whether government is doing enough or even doing the right things. That’s the nature of our system. But there is an even stronger undercurrent being experienced at all levels of life-giving rise to the individual spirit to help each other. Communities are deeply engaged in helping one another. People from all walks of life are banding together regardless of politics, religious beliefs, ethnic backgrounds, or even socioeconomic status, to help strangers, in an effort to combat and beat this deadly contagious COVID 19. This is the greater good, the act of putting others before ourselves to help each other in an effort to build a stronger nation.
Major federal legislation has passed in effort to stimulate the economy and provide relief to those impacted by this pandemic, and as government should react. But government cannot, no matter how much society demands, legislate empathy, compassion and kindness. What will be our attitudes when the pandemic does resolve? Will we as a nation shed this selfless behavior of civility, community service and citizen participation?
Medical science will most likely provide a cure and treatment for COVID 19. There may even be a medical vaccine to prevent this virus. But will we as a global community, who have responded with such acts of human kindness and personal responsibility during this crisis, use this opportunity to create a non-medical vaccine that goes beyond physical health and safety?
Will this vaccine be an opportunity for civic renewal? A civic renewal that promotes acts of selfless volunteerism and citizen participation for generations. Will we strengthen our constitutional Democracy by encouraging personal responsibility as an act of everyday life instead of a merely a brief response to an international crisis?
We will rebuild from this pandemic and its aftermath. As we do so, let us take the time to appreciate that a better, more prepared nation is not up to government as much as it is up to each of us. We must become stewards of our own and of each other’s lives. Government can only do so much. We must not fall short of investing in each other’s well being. Total faith in government, as we have seen in response to almost any crisis, is never enough. Trust must be placed and encouraged in the human spirit, not political parties, not markets and not officials. Yes, they are all part of the solution, but we as individuals, who hold the ability for self determination and belief in the greater good of each other, is how we ultimately overcome this pandemic and become even more prepared for the next unknown crisis which history has proven will surely occur.
There are no shortcuts in this work of civic renewal, in fact it is a daily exercise of discipline. It may begin by volunteering to work a food bank, reading to elementary students, or merely holding the door open for a stranger, acts of selfless kindness will define us as citizens and a nation. The accumulation of these act will unite us, and we need uniting. Whether it was rebuilding after the World War II, uniting after 911, or coming together as a Congress after a shooting at a Congressional baseball practice, Americans have always strengthened their resolve to be truly committed to help each other and make this country better.
It is my hope that we commit to use these next few months to consider how each one of us must play our part in capturing the spirit of civic renewal. Let us continue to look out for our neighbors, not because of a government decree, but rather because of that spirit where people of good will, whatever their political affiliation, economic status, and place in society find hope and seek new common ground for the greater good. We should take ownership of our citizenship.
If we can build on this moment of loss, grief, and fear, and turn to hope, commitment, and solidarity of purpose, we may look back on these horrible months as the time when out of crisis came renewal and a spirit of generosity. We will kill this virus. And in so doing, let us work to develop a vaccine of civic renewal which will be so much more powerful than any pandemic or threat to our existence.
Dennis A. Ross is the Executive Director of the American Center for Political Leadership at Southeastern University in Lakeland, FL. He served as a four-term member (R) in the U.S. House of Representatives, retiring in 2018 to take up the call for civic engagement and civil discourse for all citizens. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org