An open letter to my classmates of 63 (and all fellow Wildcats)…

The recent passing of my closest and most dearly held friend and classmate, Barbara (von Philp) O’Brien, has given me pause to share some heartfelt thoughts about a particular aspect of our relationship in the hope that others may appreciate any insight it may provide. 

Barbara and I had an uncommon relationship that brought us close after many years, and we each held our own differing opinions for sure, yet we always respected each other’s right to our opinions.  That was one of just a thousand things about her that made her the object of my affection throughout my life, from the time I first saw her on the first day of 9th grade on September 6th of 1959 when she walked into the homeroom I was assigned to, in her blue blazer, plaid skirt, bobby sox and saddle shoes, with her larger-than-life smile and those brilliant blue eyes that wouldn’t be hidden by her glasses.

It was mere happenstance that I had seen her at all that day, but doing so was a saving grace for me….if I may elaborate.   My parents had moved the family over the summer of 59 while my brother (Everett) and I were at camp, but kept it as a surprise.  Needless to say, we meet this reality with considerable trepidation and not a little anxiety, over having everything in our lives unwittingly transformed, including the loss of our friends and childhood treasures that we cherished but that got displaced (forever) in the move. 

So by the time I arrived for the first day of school I was pretty well convinced that this was a horrific idea that will certainly end in disaster.  Imagine my shock when all that changed the moment I saw Barbara walk into that classroom and I allowed myself to consider for the first time, ‘well, this may not be all that bad after all.’  From that point on, she became the (very welcomed) distraction of a lifetime for me, as we became very close over the last 15 years - I shall miss her and all of the things we shared, in ways that truly defy my description.             

However, returning to the point of our differences, I have been reflecting on how close Barbara and I were in spite of our differing political perspectives, and it led me to consider why so many of us from such similar cultural backgrounds (as classmates) can maintain such radically different views on the most basic foundational principles of political governance, and why it has become such an emotionally explosive issue of late, recognizing the volatile political climate we have been experiencing,. 

So I offer these thoughts with the sincere wish that they may serve to lessen the conflict that seems to have dominated the fabric of our lives, as evidenced by the current state of violent politics, and offer one possible explanation with the hope that it serves only to help us to better understand each other.

That stated, I must first confess that those of you who remember me at all, may have been aware that I held the dubious honor of being among the most academically challenged in the history of what would be Wheatley’s hall of shame, but that didn’t stop me from inadvertently benefitting enormously (no matter how hard I resisted) from the mere exposure to the superior high school experience our alma mater provided.

It took me a few years to evolve into anything resembling a more responsible young adult, and after 3 years in the service I began to get a bit more serious about life and what my purpose might be, getting started in my own business, finishing college, and going on to obtain a law degree, which I relied upon heavily in my business career.  

It was my exposure to the Constitutional Law classes that dramatically opened my eyes in appreciation of how we were so fortunate to be citizens of the political experiment this new republic represented when it was formed.  It was there that I first gained an understanding of the “idea” of our country and how that previously unheard of duel ideal of equality and freedom (in a world of monarchs, slavery and serfdom) was responsible for our incredible growth and economic success as a nation. 

This relationship between freedom (from oppressive government anarchies), self-reliance (nourished and encouraged by the possibilities of building a better life for our families), and the resulting prosperity for a nation united in purpose, was something we didn’t learn all that much about in high school.  The radical political voices that we were hearing here in the US beginning in the 60s had always been a source of confusion for me since we were witnessing so much global starvation, inhumanity, social injustice, and utter failure of other forms of government, and it nourished my interest in our political system and how it had come to pass that we had become a place so many sought to come to escape their oppressive living conditions.

It is this gap in our education on the subject of how a government ‘…of, by, and for the people…’ works to empower the individual and keep the sprawl of government bureaucracy from dictating our lives.  And this gap has expanded for the last 70 years or so, resulting in an alarming lack of understanding of the things that unite us while producing vast difference in our basic appreciation of what this country offers us and future generations of our children.  In this regard, I would suggest that our educational system has failed us in that we have lost sight of the much more powerful ideas and principles that bind together as a free society, and allowed our children to have an education that focuses only on our country’s shortcomings and historical flaws. 

It has become clear from what we are witnessing in the attitudes of our fellow citizens and our youth (who take to the streets in violence), the lack of understanding and appreciation of the critical role our ingeniously balanced system of government (as it was originally constructed) is supposed to play in our lives.  And our educational system today, from elementary through college, has not endeavored to educate our citizenry on these basic principles. 

Instead, the system has, in fact, not only ignored the subject, but actually misdirected students, encouraging a condemnation of our system based upon its imperfections rather than viewing it as a whole body of self governing principles that have served us well overall.  And the system has served us well until more recently because it was designed to allow us to negotiate our differences of opinion with civility, integrity and respect for each other.  Those differences were usually how to best serve the citizenry in achieving our most basic and valued elements of common interest to us all – namely, the preservation of our liberties and freedoms without any overreaching government interference that would encroach into our personal lives. 

At odds with this common interest would be a self-empowering federal body which it appears has grown into a self-preserving and ever-expanding bureaucracy, controlling larger and larger swaths of our lives from cradle to grave.

Barbara and I would have discussions on the subject from time to time and never quite get to the point where we could agree on what the extent of the role of government should be in our lives, and where the government’s responsibilities ended or the individual’s responsibilities for one’s own life should be left unfettered and a remain product of one’s own decisions.  But there was never a level of hostility that accompanies these discussions between people today.  I should point out that she lamented the fact that she didn’t attend law school herself, and trust me when I say that she would have been an amazing and colorful lawyer as she was incredibly well-read and possessed a wonderful and intelligent sense of humor.

And so the point I wish to make is to suggest that the political intolerance and incivility that exists today stems simply from a failure to understand, and therefore appreciate that we live in a country that stands as a global symbol of freedom for a reason.  It is because our system of checks and balances in governance has mandated that people discuss policy with civility and understanding of opposing viewpoints in order to reach compromise, and without that compromise, the rules dictate that nothing should be changed and the status quo should be retained until some accommodation can be achieved….peaceably. 

Remarkably, this is the system that has worked to make this nation the envy of the world, and it is why people of underprivileged and oppressed societies worldwide yearn to come here to create a better life for themselves and their loved ones.  We have distinguished ourselves by a unique form of self-government that can continue to exist and thrive to protect our freedoms only if we remain respectful of each other’s opinions.  And if our system is to retain its identity as a representative republic that talks out its differences, it can only do so by resisting socialistic philosophies that history teaches us will inevitably result in the inequitable concentration of power of and by the governing class over us, the governed.  

I fear that our two-party system has suffered a major breakdown of late as the influence of more radical views of one party provokes an equally radical resistance from the other party in response.  Neither of these two major party platforms are the same ones we grew up with, but the conflict has been used as a justification by some influencers of our society (namely those who control our sources of information) as an opportunity to introduce a totally divergent system of “democratic socialism” that is entirely incompatible with the lifestyle and freedoms we, as both mainstream conservatives and liberals, have enjoyed. 

In closing, I offer these thoughts and reflections in the hope that we all can take a moment to consider how we can utilize our life’s experience to help effect change where it may be needed (in the education of our youth and fellow citizens) and to help generate a greater understanding and tolerance between those of us with differing opinions because where our values are concerned, and what we consider most precious, hopefully we will appreciate that there is so much more about life that we share than where we differ…and what Barbara and I shared is living proof of that.

Jeff Jacobs, jcj2046@yahoo.com, Mobile: 949-292-2200