Person to Person

A couple of remarkable things happened yesterday morning that reminded me of the very positive reality that lies underneath much of the public rancor, anger, and controversy in our public life today.

First, I got to be the keynote speaker at the big annual meeting of the Tennessee Municipal Electric Power Association, held at the Loews Vanderbilt Plaza Hotel. My thanks to Jeremy Elrod, TMEPA Legislative Director, for the invite. (Yes, the same Jeremy Elrod who is Metro Councilman for District 26.) Some 250 execs from 60 local electric utilities statewide were there, from such diverse Tennessee communities as Memphis and Trenton, Columbia and Chattanooga, Etowah and Knoxville. Many of these kindly bought copies of my books afterward, and while I was signing their books a surprising number wanted to tell me of their own memories of what I call the ‘In-Between Time.’

The ‘In-Between Time’ was the period of the 1980s and 1990s when Tennesseans saw a more constructive bipartisan spirit at work in state government that produced good government and forward-facing policies. Most of these TMEPA members who volunteered their own personal stories seemed to lament (as I do) that period of bipartisanship which seems missing nowadays in governments at all levels. And, remember, these are hard-nosed business men and women who deal with professionals and the public every day. It was encouraging to me - as a Tennessean and an American - to hear their laments actually because therein lies much of the hope we all must have for better governments, and the return to decency in places where it appears lacking today.

Later in the morning, checking my email, I was thrilled to read a remarkable volume of comments to my Tennessean column about women’s suffrage and the centennial (coming next year) of the 19th Amendment. So many readers agreed, in their own words and citing their own family stories, that the year 2020 should be a momentous celebration, especially across Tennessee. (I even heard from my own cousin something I had not known before yesterday - that her grandmother and mine, who were sisters, had marched with other women in a pro-suffrage parade in their hometown, the DeKalb County seat of Smithville, Tennessee.) See my column at

Of course the fact is that, even in this age when anger seems to dominate social media and all our airwaves, underneath there is so much good that abounds in our good country. There are far more wise and anchored and balanced folks than the TV screen ever permits us to see, more common sense and fellow-feeling than demagogues make it seem.

My friend Jim Brown, in his book Ending Our Uncivil War, offers many good lessons about political recovery and spiritual renewal. He advocates for a genuine return to more civil personal relations and how that requires each of us to reach out and know individuals from different racial and cultural backgrounds than our own. Just as the late Nelson Andrews used to remind us, we will never get to know each other well as members of groups until we get to know each other as individuals.

That begins one person at a time.