Lately I hear media pundits talk about a possible time of civil unrest or even civil war in the United States. I try to put this idea aside as an exaggeration…because this is almost too scary to contemplate. But, my anxiety for the future of our country lingers…it resides at the back of my thoughts and no matter how hard I try to ignore it, it creeps in and colors my life. Are our people so divided and fearful of each other that we would destroy one another?
Walk in another man’s shoes for awhile if you want to understand where they are coming from…I have heard variations on this quote for most of my life and have tried to put myself in the shoes of others to try and learn about them…the “other.” I don’t think we can ever truly understand another person, but this exercise, the trying on of shoes and walking their path, is a start. It helps to have imagination and compassion.
I am really struggling with this concept. I keep coming back to the penny. If you look at one side of the penny you see the profile of our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln:
No matter how different we are, we can agree that this is the image on the face of the penny. * This is our reality. But, what if I am looking at Lincoln’s face and you are looking at the other side of the penny. You will see:
You will be seeing the Lincoln Memorial. We can both be looking at the same penny and we can see totally different images. And we can argue about this and both be right.
What if we put the coin on it’s edge. Then we would both see the same image of the penny and could agree. But, are we willing to look closely at the other side of things, the differing opinions of others. This is hard to do and I think most people don’t even try. It is easier to hold fast to our own perceptions. We so want to be right. Lately, I often feel like I am looking at a spinning penny…I can’t make out any images and so don’t know what to think.
When I thought about exploring this penny metaphor, I dug into my meager coin purse (I don’t use coins these days) and dug out some pennies. I was surprised to find a new back to the penny:
In my mind I had been so sure of the Lincoln Memorial being on the back side of the penny! How did this new back not get my attention before this? Why get rid of the old image? What does the shield mean?
So, a little online research tells me that the face of Lincoln first appeared on a penny in 1909 to celebrate 100 years since Lincoln’s birth. The wheat on the back represented prosperity. In 1959 the wheat image was taken off and the Lincoln Memorial appeared on the back to celebrate the sesquicentennial of Lincoln’s birth. Then starting in 2009 there were 4 other designs to appear on the back of the Lincoln penny:
- Log cabin- to represent his early years
- Lincoln reading a book
- Lincoln in front of Illinois statehouse to celebrate his time as a lawyer and statesman
- Unfinished Capitol Dome – to symbolize our struggle during the civil war
Then in 2010 they minted the image of the shield on the back in honor of the sesquicentennial of his election win. The shield symbolizes our national unity. Learning what the designs represent gives me a bit of hope that we will not come apart, but will come out of this current strife a stronger country.
I am told that there is talk of doing away with pennies altogether. Maybe we can use the old pennies as part of our school children’s education…?
The image that has not changed all these years are the words “E Pluribus Unum”, Out of Many, One…we can have different ideas and listen and learn from each other and work with each other…Let this be our future.
Photos by B. McCreary
*The words “In God We Trust” and “Liberty” on the face of the penny speak for themselves