On September 11, 2001, we were a people united by our common beliefs. It is a tragedy that those few months of national, moral, and spiritual unity were too soon lost. Still, we remain bound, whether we show it or not, by certain principles that are elusive but powerful. In the great historical accomplishments of America, these apparent opposites of commitment and tolerance are bridged by civility. In its deepest sense, civility means respect, listening, and dialogue. Yet, in the American experience, civility has not always prevailed, and its role in our political culture cannot be taken for granted.
In essence, civility is the interaction of these forces, of commitment and tolerance, of passion and mutual respect, that has been the hallmark of the American experience. Indeed, while commitment without tolerance produces a sort of zealous, destructive fundamentalism, tolerance without commitment entails a moral reserve that can degenerate into moral vacuity or paralysis.
Which, then, is the true America? The America of division or the America of unity? The America of endless public and partisan warfare or the America of cooperation, civility, and common purpose? The America of many or the America of one? In the balance of these forces lies the genius of the American experience.