Viewpoints

A photo helps point us to our better selves

First lady Michelle Obama hugs former President George W. Bush during the dedication ceremony for the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016.
First lady Michelle Obama hugs former President George W. Bush during the dedication ceremony for the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016. The Associated Press

Look at this picture carefully and commit it to memory. It may be a long time before we see another like it, a rare occasion in these days of disharmony.

A first lady and a former president coming together to celebrate African American history and culture, as they did in September, and putting aside any differences to share this moment of kindness.

It’s not the first time we have seen Michelle Obama and George W. Bush in a picture together, but this one touched nerves as none before, mostly positive, although there were critics, on the right and left.

But it’s comforting to know, especially after the recent bitter presidential campaign, that the idea of mutual respect exists among some of our past and present leaders.

Obama and Bush obviously do not embrace many of the same political philosophies, but neither has allowed that gulf of disagreements to become an ocean of anger and distrust and an absence of civility.

And if you listen to what both have said, at times there are strong similarities in some of the things they have discovered about our country and its people.

Mrs. Obama spoke these words at the Democratic National Convention in 2012:

“If farmers and blacksmiths could win independence from an empire … if immigrants could leave behind everything they knew for a better life on our shores … if women could be dragged to jail for seeking the vote … if a generation could defeat a depression, and define greatness for all time … if a young preacher could lift us to the mountaintop with his righteous dream … and if proud Americans can be who they are and boldly stand at the altar with whom they love, then surely we can give everyone in this country a fair chance at that great American dream.

“Because in the end, more than anything else, that is the story of this country – the story of unwavering hope grounded in unyielding struggle.”

And then this year at the memorial service for the five Dallas police officers ambushed and killed, Bush included these thoughts:

“Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions.

“And this has strained our bonds of understanding and common purpose. But Americans, I think, have a great advantage. To renew our unity, we only need to remember our values.

“We are bound by things of the spirit, by shared commitments to common ideals.

“At our best, we practice empathy, imagining ourselves in the lives and circumstances of others. This is the bridge across our nation’s deepest divisions.

“And it is not merely a matter of tolerance, but of learning from the struggles and stories of our fellow citizens and finding our better selves in the process.”

We should keep this picture in mind as we search for our better selves.

Gregory Favre is the former executive editor of The Sacramento Bee and retired vice president of news at The McClatchy Co. Contact him at gregory@calmatters.org.

  Comments