How hard is it to form a coalition? To maintain cooperation? To make compromises, concessions, in order to reach agreements that get things done?
These questions are being tested here in Britain’s new coalition government, just as they are in other coalition endeavors taking place in the world today. And there are many of them – from the US-led coalition’s efforts in Afghanistan, to Iraq’s attempt to form a coalition government, to initiatives within many US states that require bipartisan cooperation to address urgent issues.
These questions may well resonate with individuals as well as governments. What does coalition require of each of us in a democracy? What changes will we need to be willing to make in thought and action in order to work with others who hold different views? Does the rhetoric of insult and defamation serve the greater good? Are we building walls that separate us from one another?
Many are disenchanted with politics out of weariness with the constant backbiting that seems to go along with it. Yet there’s an urgent need to support and pray for those in power who are charged with monumental tasks that lie well beyond the arena of partisanship.
We need solutions to the problems and problem solvers to implement them. This could involve a willingness to learn the art of compromise, of mutual support. Relationship building leads to problem solving. To achieve this, the balance may need to shift toward respectful listening and away from gusty opining. That’s not to downplay the value of healthy debate, but rather to highlight what it may take to learn this art – an art that affects just about every avenue of daily life.
Marriage is an example of coalition – two individuals agreeing to work together for something greater than themselves. Everyone in any partnership knows there are times when goodwill is tested. But what strengthens the relationship is understanding the potential of the coalition, and a desire to make it work. Writing of marriage, Mary Baker Eddy said, “Mutual compromises will often maintain a compact which might otherwise become unbearable” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 59). And this applies in situations beyond just marriage. When a growing culture of respect underpins the desire to reach agreement, this sustains the agreement when it happens.
But often goodwill isn’t enough. We can’t do it on our own. The book of Ephesians in the Bible addresses the deep rifts that were fracturing society at the time of the early Christian church, and points to the healing power of the Christ to bring people together. It speaks of the “middle wall of partition,” that divides people, being “broken down” through the love of Christ. That wall could be defined in a thousand ways in our world today as whatever separates us from one another and makes cooperation seem impossible. But as the Bible states with such glowing intensity, the Christ is at work right here, dissolving the barriers and enabling us to see one another as we really are – the children of God. Our relationship with Him is the foundation of our unity with one another. And on this basis, the problems we face together can be matched by the solutions we act on together.
The beauty of democracy is that everyone is involved. In its highest sense it can be a democracy of prayer where each one is seen to be of equal value, where no one is left out or sidelined. Words of Christ Jesus describe this ultimate coalition: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself” (Luke 10:27).
In prayer we reach out beyond ourselves and acknowledge the divine power that is present to reveal solutions to the most intractable problems. Even when viewpoints seem locked in opposition, another way forward can appear when hearts are moved to give up their fixed ideas, human will, animosity, and pride. And this is the concession that so often opens the door to cooperation.