Out and About (Sort of): Mind the Gap by Howard Freedlander


Nearly two weeks ago I listened to a sermon at Christ Church, Easton incorporating “mind the gap” as a metaphor for encouraging parishioners to close the ever-increasing distance between our secular behavior and spiritual beliefs. Anyone who has traveled the London Underground rapid transit system has repeatedly heard these words as a caution to watch the space between the landing platform and the train as you climb on and off.

Frankly, my mind wandered as the priest delivered his message in tones too soft for my worsening hearing capacity. Nonetheless, I focused on the purely British admonition and created my own mental picture of American values and actions. Thoughts about morality, the rule of law, ethics and human empathy occupied my mind as I ceased to listen very intently to the eloquent words emanating from the pulpit.

A few months ago I attended an Eagle Scout of Honor ceremony for a young neighbor whose diligent efforts earned him more badges than necessary to become an Eagle Scout. The event, held in the parish hall of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Easton, was simple and wholesome. Long aware that achievement of Eagle Scout status is a notable honor, I was struck by the number of former Eagle Scouts, middle-age and older, who attended the ceremony to support a new member of this select group.

In our often cynical nation, concepts like service to others, honor, character, love of country and honesty may seem old-fashioned and out-of-step with daily life in a country defined increasingly more frequently by divisive behavior and abusive discourse.

I thought about my young neighbor’s Eagle Scout ceremony, as he was surrounded by family, friends, and mentors, as I read about President Trump’s remarks last week at the Boy Scout Jamboree. He illustrated again his total disregard for the presidency and 40,000 young people who had spent days learning about what binds, not divides us.

What a shameful performance by our shameless president!

On an occasion when Trump should have used the moral power of his office to motivate young people to pursue truth and compassion, he used his platform for political purposes. He castigated the media, as he does on nearly a daily basis. So much for respect for the freedom of the press. He slammed the Justice Department for not investigating the alleged “crimes” of Hillary Clinton, his opponent in the race for president. So much for good sportsmanship—particularly since Trump won—and respect for the democratic process.

Trump even told 40,000 children about a New York cocktail party attended by the “hottest people in New York and a friend who made a ton of money in real estate. So much for discretion and judgment.

John McLaughlin, a former deputy director of the CIA and an acting director in 2004 and now a teacher at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, wrote in an op-ed piece in The Washington Post:

“The real power of the American presidency lies in its ability to inspire—especially young people who are in awe of the office, its majesty, history, and symbolism. There was no inspiration here (jamboree speech), only mockery, spin, and manipulation.”

All of us, from the president to columnists to religious leaders to scouts, must “mind the gap.” We must seek to bridge the gap between selfish, boorish behavior and innate decency to others. For political, civic, political, educational, athletic and religious leaders, the obligation to navigate the “gap” in a way that provides a powerful example to young people not only is a necessary responsibility but a relentless obligation.

I wrote last week about U.S. Senator John McCain and his current battle against brain cancer. He traveled last week to Washington to participate in Senate votes on an effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. (ACA). What gained my attention and admiration was not his vote to defeat a bill to rewrite the ACA but his speech after voting yes to consider new health care protection for Americans.

I won’t repeat his words. They underscored a message that contravenes the polarity that characterizes Congress and elective bodies throughout the country: we can accomplish more in collaboration than in political isolation. He also talked about civility; hurtful words damage relationships and curtail progress. He acknowledged that his comments in the past often proved destructive and unproductive.

The gap can be actual or figurative. If we view Scout beliefs in honor, honesty and human compassion as instructive and universal, not childish and Pablum, then maybe we can create better human discourse and behavior.

It would be helpful if President Trump led the way. He won’t, and he can’t. I wish it were not the case. His moral and emotional compasses have no direction.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

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