On Sunday we visited the Reichstag, home of the German government. I’ve been thinking a lot about that and their political system. The biggest political difference between the United States and Germany is the fact that we have a Two Party system and they have multiple political parties. This has some really desirable effects and creates some unique requirements for their elections and government.
The biggest advantage to their system is that no one party can get enough spots in the government to govern independently. They HAVE to work together as parties in coalitions. Because of this, their political season is much less contentious. It’s pretty hard to cooperate with someone when 6 months ago you were yelling about what a terrible representative they’d be.
But one of the most profound things I’ve seen in Germany is an unwillingness to forget their history. It seems at almost every opportunity they take the chance to acknowledge the terrible role their country played in the war. The site we visited with a long section of the Berlin Wall and the WWII museum is called, on their website, a “documentation center”. There seems to be this unspoken understanding that being upfront about the mistakes of the past contributes to not repeating them.
This, of course, leads me directly to thinking about our own situation in the United States. We have had some pretty horrific events/eras in our country as well. But we want to believe that they are in the past and don’t affect us today. The thing is though, they are not in the past. Prejudice and discrimination is still alive and well in this country. Whether it’s against people of color, the LBGTQ community, different ethnicities, or even women, we can’t pretend this isn’t an issue that needs to be continually discussed, documented, and rectified.
In addition, the idea of compromise and bipartisanship has practically disappeared. We view people of different opinions as someone to beat in a contest. It’s either our opinion or theirs, someone has to lose. Even I’m guilty of this.
How do we bring back openness to new ideas and the spirit of compromise for the better good? How do we learn to work together to solve huge problems. Does that need to start in the classroom? I’ve been hearing for years kids who say, “I don’t want to work with them. I don’t like them.” or “I can’t be in their group, I don’t work well with them.” When did this become okay???? It isn’t a big leap from “I don’t want to work with them” to “I don’t want to be around them” to “They shouldn’t be allowed”.
I really don’t have any answers. I think there are things that Germany can learn from the United States (especially when it comes to their educational system), but I KNOW there are things we can learn from Germany. Namely a sense of cooperation and an awareness of how our past is still influencing our present.