The transition of power is one of the essential markers – and wonders – of a democracy, as well as a measure of its health and meaning. The rituals we have all witnessed these past days have not changed the realities of a troubled nation and a hurting world. Though the voice of America is more full-bodied than ever before, what happened in Washington yesterday does not solve or even diminish the challenges facing the new administration. The “Ins” are out and the “Outs” are in but the changes promised remain to be seen. We can only hope that in D.C. today it is no longer “business as usual.”
During the first hundred days, the needle on America’s hope-o-meter will dance close to the rainbow that says “All is well and getting better.” But shortly thereafter it is certain to drop towards the storm clouds and lightning at the other end. That is not to deny the needle’s jittery uncertainty from Day One.
I, for one, am resolved to keep an open mind in the months ahead. Over the years I have learned that a closed mind is like a fist. It cannot do much of anything other than clutch resentments and fight against whatever fails to fit one’s mindset.
I remember a client whose hands were constantly balled into fists. I asked him why. He told me he grew up on Chicago’s south side, fighting his way through both neighborhood and school. He joined a gang, later became a Marine where, he said, he really learned how to survive.
“It’s a jungle out there, Doc. I go to war every day. Someone’s always after my wallet, my job – you name it!”
When I told him that was a helluva way to live, he said, simply, “That’s the way it is.” I asked him to become conscious of his hands which were fisted, relax them and tell me how it felt. It took what seemed like five minutes for him to unclench one hand. When he finally did so, he cried. I let him sit with his feelings for a long while. Then we got down to work.
An open hand can do so much more than a fist; so can an open mind. Since change continues to be the defining theme of our new President, our minds need to be open to possibilities even while acknowledging the problems facing him. Never have the different and differing voices that define democracy been more vital to our times. Nothing challenges a mind to be open more than change. And nothing affords any change the challenges it needs than the open-minded questions of all of us.
Whatever happens in Washington in the months ahead, the new administration deserves and needs minds open to the dreams that often win elections but seldom change the world. At the moment, the possibilities are there but no one person can do it alone. Open minds can help in ways closed ones never will.