Conversations on an autumn Sunday afternoon

Published September 30, 2021

By Tom Campbell

Sunday afternoon was perfect for sitting outside, enjoying nature in the balmy weather. It reminded me of my younger days. Stores were closed on Sundays, so after church we often gathered outside, took an afternoon drive or visited with family and friends. It was truly a day for rest. Maybe we should return to those good-old days.
Wife Lib and I often engage in deep dialogue when time permits, and some of those discussions get pretty meaty and engaging. This Sunday was no exception. “Do you think we’ve lived in the best times of our nation,” she asked? So much for starting in the shallow end. “I hate to think America’s greatest days are behind us,” my normally optimistic mate added.
During our lifetimes we’ve witnessed the angst of racial unrest and the civil rights movement, Viet Nam, 9/11 and periods of economic boom and bust. Through it all we were an optimistic people, believing our best days were ahead. Currently, we are the least united in our lifetimes. We don’t trust much of anyone. We have lost confidence in our systems, especially our election system. And truth, real facts, don’t seem to matter. We can tell any lie we want as often as we want and there are people who want to believe it. Where once we felt like we were “all in this together,” partisan rancor and division is all too prevalent. Issues that should unite us, like public wellbeing and our collective health have become political battlegrounds and there’s no concern for the common good. It’s isn’t hard to get discouraged.
How do we turn this around, we pondered? Where are the peacemakers, the unifiers, the dreamers who can paint a vision for a better North Carolina, a better America? I remembered people like Charles Aycock, who despite racist views, opened a new school almost every day of his administration. Kerr Scott dreamed of getting us out of the mud and paved farm-to-market roads. Terry Sanford demanded improvements in public education for all children. Luther Hodges dreamed the Research Triangle Park would be a major economic engine. Bill Friday, crafted state-supported colleges into a world class university system. Jim Hunt dreamed we could become an information and biotech leader and Jim Martin, connected one end of our state to the other with I-40.
Can we agree we need to change the current direction? Instead of focusing on things that divide us perhaps a start for turning around our current crisis - yes, I believe we are in a crisis situation - is to concentrate on what can unite us. If we fear a continued decline, we need to act on some common dreams and goals. Let’s dream what we want our community, our state, our nation to be five years from now. Stop focusing on who to blame, what we are against or to which tribe we belong, but on what we collectively desire.
In times past we said we wanted all people to be able to get a good education, a good job and enjoy a good life. We desired to live in a safe, peaceful, clean and healthy place. Is that still true? If so, what must be done to get us there? Can we unite behind some action items to begin positive momentum?
My wife and I had some good dialogue on Sunday, but many more people need to be involved, our best and brightest minds, as well ordinary people who want the best for us. Our challenges will not be resolved with a single Sunday discussion, but it’s a good way to begin. 
Our history is full of people who faced adversity, who lacked everything needed, who sometimes didn’t even know the next step. But they were determined and had a common goal: to make things better for those who followed.
Can we do less?