In the immediate aftermath of the tragic Arizona shooting, I am consumed with despair, barely able to keep my attention on driving home through the heavy afternoon traffic, my mind shuffles through a stack of possibilities searching for a trump—a solution to the intense rancorous rhetoric that has come to dominate public discourse. The interview airing on public radio barely infiltrates this preoccupied mind. Suddenly, in the midst of winter, I am aware of an extraordinary voice filling the car with a refreshing spring air. I turn up the volume to better hear the words that flow with the music and my mind shifts gears. I had always felt strongly that television talking heads and pundits need to tone down their continuous emphasis on differences, their intense focus on the extreme ideology of opposing forces of society. I felt we should find some way to muffle those voices that seem too far off-center of conventional wisdom. How could I have been so misguided!
It was my good fortune that I was hearing the debut of “We’ve Added It Up,” an original song written and sung by Shara Worden, a new voice beyond the run-of-the-mill in the realm of pop music. Conservatory trained for grand opera, this soprano whose range is as wide as FM radio’s band, bridges the gap between pop and chamber music. Accompanied by a string quartet absent from popular music since the Beatles recorded “Yesterday,” her song makes the point that opposing forces are necessary to bind the world in love and understanding, to insure the survival of society, just as the polar extremes hold this planet together. She goes on to cite more illustrations of opposites that work together beginning with omnipresent atoms.
After arriving at home, I immediately went to the National Public Radio website and listened again and again to “We’ve Added It Up,” trying to fix in my mind the multitude of metaphors Ms. Worden uses to make her point. Just as composers, writers and artists struggle to balance the tension that creates enduring works of art, we as a society must overcome the challenge of achieving a balance of the opposing forces that can create solutions to social dilemmas.
The Alabama Humanities Foundation speaks to this challenge with the offer of a cash award. A select group of humanities scholars from Alabama universities and colleges have addressed the topic “What Does Civility Mean in 21st-Century Debate?” On March 25, the author of the winning essay will share a summary of his/her paper at the humanities forum co-sponsored by AHF and the David Mathews Center for Civic Life. The forum, entitled “Daring to Defend our Rights: A Discussion of Civility in Alabama Public Life,” will convene at the Alabama Department of Archives and History in Montgomery. See www.ahf.net/newsroom for further details.
Admittedly, a handful of essays may not totally eliminate the exercise of such uncivil “rights” by some members of American society, but perhaps the ideas generated therein can produce a ripple effect that will illustrate how the balance of opposites can have a positive effect for the common good.