Virginia Buckingham
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A member of the Marblehead Current’s Board of Directors, Virginia Buckingham is the former chief executive officer of the Massachusetts Port Authority, chief of staff to two Massachusetts governors, deputy editorial page editor for the Boston Herald and author of “On My Watch: A Memoir.” 

In these divisive times, I find myself searching for that place on the human Venn diagram where we can connect, find common ground, calm anger down. I try to visualize what else besides the Venn circles overlapping would be a good symbol for mutual respect, which is essential to compromise, such as bridges or handshakes, when I see it literally right in front of me. The ampersand, symbol of that simple grammar bridge, “and.” Like much of my most loved home decor, the wooden ampersand that sits on top of my bookcase near my writing desk was purchased at Home Goods. Its prominent place in my favorite room acts as a nudge, reminder, guide to something I learned long ago – “and” is a superior bridge to understanding and connection than “but.”

Here are some examples. The recent spate (upon recent spate) of shootings, at schools, at clubs, grocery stores, elicit the responses you would expect – horror, fear, anger, resolve to do something to stop the next one. Lately, though, they have also elicited this – a condemnation of those whose response is to offer their “thoughts and prayers.” You can differ on how, and yes even whether, gun control is the answer to the scourge of gun violence, passionately so. And you can offer and accept thoughts and prayers in a compassionate, authentic, meaningful way. Why can’t both be respected? How does demeaning a sincere prayerful response get us any closer to compromise?

I found the recent jack-ass move by the governor of Florida to trick migrants into flying to Massachusetts appalling. Human beings shouldn’t be used as political gimmicks. And I recognize the frustration of states which deal with thousands upon thousands of migrants while many, well-removed geographically, lecture about their approach to handling the stream of families stressing public resources. We are a nation of immigrants and our border is failing. Can we pick up where President George W. Bush and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, left off, use “and” to forge a compromise on immigration reform?

The issue of abortion, in my view, also deserves the grace of “and.” I am pro-choice. The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision will, I hope, ultimately result in the federal and state codification of access which most Americans, polls show, support. And, while I believe it’s a woman’s right to control health decisions about her own body, I also respect the sincerely held moral belief that the decision to abort does not belong to the woman alone.

One more for today. Recent studies have shown that the decision to close down schools during the height of the pandemic had a disastrous impact on learning. I think keeping schools closed as long as we did was a mistake. And I think educators and leaders did the best they could making decisions in the face of a 100-year pandemic. Now let’s determine the best way to help students make up lost ground.

I can think of plenty of actions and issues where “And” has no place, racism chief among them. Also, offering the respect of “and” doesn’t imply agreement with the opposing view. “And” recognizes the legitimacy of the opposing view. Without the recognition of legitimacy, compromise is impossible.

I grew up on the New York Yankees side of the Red Sox/Yankees divide in Connecticut. My dad was a devoted Yankees fan from childhood. Yet, when he had grandchildren who loved the Red Sox as much as he did his Bronx Bombers, he started rooting for both teams. In the nursing home where he spent his final months, he even kept a quirky hat, decorated with the two teams’ emblems. I’m not suggesting you root for the Yankees and the Red Sox. I know that would be a bridge too far. I’m just saying consider using the “and” when possible. You may just start opening doors and closing divides.

Virginia Buckingham serves on the Marblehead Current Board of Directors. Buckingham is formerly the chief executive officer of the Massachusetts Port Authority, chief of staff to two Massachusetts governors, deputy editorial page editor for the Boston Herald and author of “On My Watch A Memoir.” “Everything Will Be Okay” is a weekly column.

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