This past winter, Robin Smith, former leader of the Tennessee Republican Party and one-time congressional candidate, gave her mom and dad a Christmas present unlike any other.
She gave them their history.
“I bought them a subscription to the DNA Project,” Smith said last week at a lunchtime panel at Greenspaces.
“We traced our family’s DNA all the way back to Africa.”
Since the groundbreaking Human Genome Project, DNA projects have been created that can track a person’s ancestry back thousands of years through analysis of cell samples.
Smith, whose ancestry is also Cherokee-Irish, told the story during a lunchtime panel with longtime Democrat Jim Hall and Hamilton County school board member Jeffrey Wilson.
In the crowd that day were four Europeans visiting Chattanooga through the Marshall Memorial Fellowship, which identifies emerging European leaders and sends them on a three-week, whirlwind tour through the United States.
Last Monday, a minister of finance from France, a politician from Bulgaria, an expert in development from Poland and an Italian lawyer ate Niedlov’s sandwiches while Smith, Hall and Wilson tried to explain U.S. politics.
They started talking about race.
“If you run a campaign, race is an important issue,” said Hall, who campaigned for Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and two Tennessee governors.
Then they spoke about religion.
“How you define freedom is measured by the religion you observe,” said Smith.
Then they discussed the tea party.
“When the tea party says it wants to take this country back, that means something different to certain minority groups who don’t necessarily remember the good old days in the same way,’’ said Wilson, also a Baptist minister.
Around that time, Smith, now an energy consultant, said one of the most insightful comments I’ve heard in years.
“The Human Genome Project has proven that all humans are 99.9 percent the same,” she said.
Wait just a second, Ms. Smith.
You’re saying that Barack Obama and Rush Limbaugh are 99.9 percent alike?
You’re suggesting that Ronald Reagan and John Lennon were only one-tenth of a percent different?
You’re trying to sell us the notion that the head of PETA is nearly identical to the president of the NRA?
That, most certainly, is what she is saying.
Somewhere along the way, we have lost sight of the genetic and spiritual truth that as humans, we belong to one another. While the work of the Human Genome Project was genetic — proving that only 0.01 of a percent of difference exists genetically between the 6 billion individuals on Earth — it speaks to a larger truth that talk radio, the folks in Congress and front page news seems to ignore.
“We are all part of a wonderfully complex casserole,” said Smith.
And that casserole is the human family.
Of course, massive differences exist politically, and while Sarah Palin may be miles apart philosophically from Gloria Steinem, we must not forget that as humans, we all desire the same needs.
Not long ago, researchers with the Institute for Global Ethics asked nearly 300 people from 40 countries to rank the values they hold dearest.
The participants — who differed in age, faith, economic background and education — continually cited the same three core values.
Truth. Compassion. Responsibility.
The tension begins as we try to enact those values through different policies and practices, but we must remember that the farmer in China, the banker in Seattle and the single mom in Angola are more alike than different.
The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn years ago asked his friends to put this into practice.
Write a love letter to your politician, he counseled. So often we send angry letters. Why not for once try to write one out of love?
It’s a good piece of homework: Try to write a letter of kindness to the one politician who makes your blood boil.
And if you can’t finish the letter, at least write 99.9 percent of it.
David Cook can be reached at email@example.com and travels to Europe this summer as part of the German Marshall Fund.