Reading the Constitution

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I listen to the news. So many angry cries: "My way is better!" and "I alone can fix this if you elect me!" "Those other people have it all wrong!" The discussion is uncompromising. Everyone seems to be dug in. It does not feel like we are a united people.

Feeling despondent, I picked up a little booklet given to me by a friend who recently immigrated to the U.S. It makes for terrific reading, and I recommend it to everyone: The Constitution of the United States.

Just 20 or so pages long, the Constitution is a rule book for governing cooperatively through compromise and power-checking. It provides guidance for negotiation and resolution. Even after more than two centuries, its deliberate and careful systems show us a way to find common ground.

Our Constitution begins:

"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union..." This acknowledges how difficult being united can seem at times.


" establish justice, insure domestic tranquility.." This means to work towards civility and peaceable coexistence.

"...provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare..." This is a promise to work together for the well being of everyone. We are reminded we chose to be in this together.

The Founding Fathers had serious differences as they wrote the Constitution. They disagreed on how to balance the power of large states and small ones, how to accommodate the needs of both the agricultural South and the commercial North. Their debates were so contentious that the record was sealed for 30 years. But they found a way.

The Constitution is worth studying again for its wisdom, even though our times are so different from the late 1700s.

The goal in uniting as a nation was to work together for a greater good while acknowledging many different voices. The Constitution lays out a brilliant road-map. It does not say a single thing about "it has to be my way."

With a Perspective, this is Marilyn Englander.

Marilyn Englander is a teacher and head of school at the REAL School Marin in Larkspur.