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Lessons on civility from American history

My favorite place at Disney World is the Hall of Presidents.

It is not an adrenaline pumper, like many of the rides. There are no fast twists and turns, no spray from animated elephants as the Jungle Boat glides by.

Instead, you just go inside a large hall, sit back into a comfortable theater seat, and listen to the stories of animated presidents as they tell the history of the country.

As rides go, probably most would see it as a yawner.

But I love it.

I love history. Specifically, I love U.S. history.

I could go to a place like Gettysburg several times in my lifetime and spend days there reading the history and envisioning the scene of the battles.

I’m pretty sure many of you are just like me. That is why Ken Burns’ nine-episode PBS documentary on the Civil War was one of the most-watched television series of all time. Many of us seem to be drawn to that time in our nation’s history.

Burns, in an interview with PBS, said “the Civil War was history running on all cylinders. It was the most important event in the life of our nation, and its importance continues today. The blueprint of the America we know was drawn up then, and whether we know it or not, we are still walking around in the shadow of that war.”

I think of that often as I have watched the protests against racial injustice across our country. I think of people like Abraham Lincoln and the tremendous weight he must have carried on his shoulders during his presidency.

I think of people like Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee, opposing commanders of their armies in the Civil War, but who both graduated from West Point and both met and worked with each other in the Mexican-American War.

And I think of the men and their families from Northeast Michigan who enlisted and marched off to war and what it would have been like to fight a war against injustice and for preservation of the nation.

And, when I do, I am drawn back to the Hall of Presidents, and the feelings of comfort and pride that resonate from that presentation.

It is a memory right now that gives me peace amidst the chaos.

As I read about the violence and destruction taking place in our country today, I am grieved. When I read about the senseless deaths of both citizens and police, I am sickened. It is a time in our history that concerns me greatly.

Nineteen years ago yesterday, the world changed.

Mankind saw Evil close up and viewed what Hell must be like. The world changed, and, after that horrific day, people started smiling at others. They talked with neighbors, and they no longer took anything for granted.

They rallied together, joined hands, and dug in their heels to make things better. They were male and female, black and white, young and old.

We need that again.

We need to return to our roots … roots sewn from the blood spilled in places like Gettysburg, and join hands and promote unity, not division.

We need to restore civility to our discussions. We need respect and compassion, empathy and forgiveness. We need to treat each man and woman as an equal. We need to listen and not react. We need to strive for common understanding so we can start building a foundation for success and prosperity together.

We need to end the fighting in the streets — the sooner, the better.

Nineteen years ago, we proved such thinking is possible.

Let’s make it happen again.

Bill Speer can be reached at 989-354-3111, ext. 311, or bspeer@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @billspeer13.

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