Essay: In our reruns, an amalgam of a more civil society

November 14, 2019

Originally published in the Fulcrum

Debilyn Molineaux, The Fulcrum

I grew up watching reruns of “The Andy Griffith Show” in the late 1970s. It always felt to me a little nostalgic for its lessons that simple living was best. I enjoyed the show and still appreciate the values the show exemplifies.

A few years ago, as I was watching our societal divisions widen, I explored the idea of having Sheriff Andy meet Captain Picard of “Star Trek: the Next Generation.” I researched and talked with people about how to help these two fictional characters meet and converse. Eventually I abandoned the idea as a fun thought experiment without a conclusion.

Maybe I was pursuing the wrong goal — and seeking something else could help improve our civil discourse.

Mostly, I felt their values were similar, but what they wanted for their own lives seemed so vastly different. I had trouble imagining a scene where they were both comfortable and happy.

Imagine beaming Sheriff Andy up to the Enterprise — maybe a holodeck version of Mayberry? Or how might he see the rest of the ship? Or imagine Captain Picard leading an away team in Mayberry. What challenge would he find to overcome that Sheriff Andy didn’t have under control? How would the townspeople react to strangers in their midst? Captain Picard might be bored silly or, more likely, get into trouble. That’s what happens when outsiders come into Mayberry — they cause trouble. (Review of plots has confirmed this.)

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And of course, there is that whole patriarchal thing of letting the men figure it all out and be the hero. But that’s another opinion piece.

But what if … they have shared values that could be identified, or Sheriff Andy and Captain Picard were best friends, or Mayberry and the Enterprise co-existed and were just different places to live, or instead of a culture war about which was better, we like BOTH communities?

Could we use the values of both communities to find our way forward as a nation? I have always appreciated many perspectives on the world. It’s why I’m often labeled as a “postmodernist” or “humanist.” If the label fits, I’ll wear it. I’m more concerned with how I might help others appreciate different perspectives, too. Maybe we start with values and build a new community — even a renewed nation — together.

Here’s my list of the values I wish to keep from Mayberry:

  • Neighborliness
  • Sense of community and belonging
  • Long-term relationships
  • Personal responsibility and owning up to mistakes
  • Forgiveness when mistakes are made

And the values I wish to keep from the Enterprise:

  • Courage to explore new worlds (perspectives)
  • Respect and curiosity when approaching new beings
  • A sense of purpose that is larger than themselves
  • Honor for all beings as equals
  • Using strengths in challenging situations and trusting others to do the same.

Which brings me around to leadership. What are the values of leadership both communities expect and therefore receive? I turned to the big research tool in the sky — Facebook — and asked followers on a page what values they thought Sheriff Andy and Captain Picard shared. They came up with:

  • Truth, honesty and integrity
  • Doing what’s right, even when difficult
  • Kindness and respect
  • Equality
  • Bearing loss with dignity
  • Ability to listen and think deeply
  • Ability to focus on the big picture
  • Humility

That’s quite a lofty list for many real-life leaders to aspire to, and I wish they would. If I were to redevelop Mayberry, I would add in more courage and curiosity about new people or experiences. If I were to reorganize the Enterprise, I would add in more neighborliness and sense of community or belonging. On the Enterprise, the leaders had this among themselves but appeared distant from the crew.

And as for leadership, I would vote for leaders who embody these qualities instead of espouse them. Imagine what a different world we would enjoy as we live out these values in our communities and in ourselves. We might even be so bold as to start a new kind of gentle movement. A neighborly stadium wave of courage, kindness and respect. I’d like to live there. Wouldn’t you?