Altruism, Abrams, and America

What Can We Do to Better the State of Our Union?

By Briana Brady — Assistant Features Editor

On Feb. 5, 2019, President Trump gave his second State of the Union address to a divided Congress—a speech that lasted 82 minutes. He first began by calling for parties to come together in compromise for the common good of the country, saying that “…we must reject the politics of revenge, resistance, and retribution — and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise, and the common good.”

All of that sounds idealistic in concept, but realistically, Trump’s campaign was set on the foundation of getting a rise out of people who hadn’t formerly had their divisive and socially un-entertained opinions voiced by a contending candidate. His presidency has mirrored his campaign approach; it has been one that has only incited more polarization amongst Americans through hateful rhetoric and targeting policies.

Trump’s address on Tuesday covered many topics, ranging from immigration policy to the status of the economy, but at the end of the 82 minutes, I was still left asking myself: “is there a solution to remedying the pain that this administration has inflicted upon so many (especially the marginalized) communities?”

My class this semester on Personal Identity in Buddhist, Western, and African Philosophy has recently been discussing the ways in which Buddhism interacts with the concept of altruism. Altruism, by definition, is “unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others” (Merriam-Webster). In simpler terms, it involves living in an unselfish manner with concern for the happiness of other beings. I bring this concept up because I think that implementing altruism or altruistic practices in our lives may be an approach through which each person can “embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise, and the common good” on a personal, apolitical level.

In Stacey Abrams’s Democratic response to the State of the Union address, she told the tale that many who follow her path in politics have heard before: the story of her father, a shipyard worker, giving away his coat to a homeless man whom he had met while hitchhiking home one cold afternoon. As she so eloquently explains, her father had given the man his coat because unlike that man, her father knew his family would come for him; he would not be left alone.

She goes on to use this example to illustrate her belief in “this uncommon grace of community… [that] we do not succeed alone—in these United States, when times are tough, we can persevere because our friends and neighbors will come for us.”

Essentially, Abrams is alluding to the idea of living empathetically, compassionately, and ultimately altruistically, as ways through which America can hold out hope for brighter days to come. The burden of endurance and perseverance is certainly disproportionately placed on marginalized groups, and while I see living selflessly as something to aspire to always, I agree with Abrams that this approach to day-to-day life is vital to maintaining the human relationships that are not defined by government but are defined by the shared humanity amongst communities and across geographical boundaries.

I sincerely hope that the government can come to a compromise to prevent yet another grueling shutdown, but regardless, communities need to commit to walk with each other through shared struggles in an altruistic manner. No one should be left alone. America must show up, reach out, and come for one another.  

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