About Connections: Love it or hate it, history is a map. Those who hate history think it irrelevant; many who love history think it escapism. In truth, history is the clearest road map to how we got here: America in the 21st century.
As the holiday season begins, we can receive a gift from the past. It costs nothing, but it is beyond price. It is a gift from those who settled Berkshire County.
Handed down to Berkshire villages by the New England Congregational ministers more than 250 years ago, it held the communities together through cold, scarcity, squabbles and disease.
When tensions were inflamed and insults rose to the level of slander, the ministers held “reconciliations.” Members rose and pledged to live in harmony with each other even when there was not perfect agreement between them. It was a public and formal recognition of the truth that, when the current “hot button” issue was resolved, the citizens of Berkshire still had to live and work together.
It is harder now than it was then because we are more populous and more diverse. Still the lesson holds.
Sociologists call it “comity.” The similarity to the word “community” is more than coincident: it is a derivative. Comity exists in a society to the degree that members have a basic regard for each other. That regard dictates behavior even when one group within the society seeks to defeat the position taken by another group. Neither side tries to crush the opposition, deny the legitimacy of its values, or inflict extreme pain or gratuitous humiliation. They do not because they know that community life must go on after the current political battle is fought and resolved. In the heat generated by any one issue, they do not forget that the opposition is comprised of neighbors, fellow workers and friends.
Regardless of the seeming importance of the issue, the basic humanity of the opposition is never forgotten. It is the opposite of the attitude when declaring war. In that instance, the first step is to destroy the humanity of the enemy, demonize the other side in order to justify killing. War is the abandonment of civility, the opposite of comity.
Comity is courtesy and considerate behavior within a society formed for mutual benefit. The goal is to stay together in harmony, despite differences, because the survival of the community is more important than how any single issue is resolved. It is a lesson handed down to Berkshire towns from the ministers and, whether outlanders know it or not, it is what makes The Berkshires seem “so nice.”
If now, at our national government’s center, it seems only those who share perfect agreement can be friends – if here and now, in Berkshire, we seem to be forgetting the defining lesson of our past – let us be, in this season, reminded.
At this time of year when we focus on gifts, visiting, punch bowls and groaning boards, let it be resolved that we remember the humanity of our neighbors – even the humanity of those who disagree with us on issues we hold dear. Be it resolved that the importance of community over any one political issue never be forgotten.
In the simplest terms, it is what my sister always said: let it be resolved – every human being deserves a dignified response.