It's a valid, uncomfortable question we all should be asking.

How long can a vehemently divided nation — built on the principles of democratic self-governance — survive?

Regardless of how we individually answer that question, it's healthy to reflect on the words of a retired Denver business professor who keynoted a Region luncheon last week.

Buie Seawell, recently retired from the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver, wisely urged a banquet hall filled last Thursday with some 500 Northwest Indiana public, business and nonprofit officials to get back to the basics of our nation's founding.

It's a message we all should take to heart.

"The first freedom is the freedom to govern yourself and to participate in your government," Seawell said during the address to members and guests of Northwest Indiana-based One Region. "If we lose the freedom of self-government, all others are in jeopardy."

Students of history know our nation frequently finds itself in the throes of disagreement and factionalism. At least once in our history, a bloody 19th century war was fought because of it.

But Seawell noted America's form of government survives when we find consensus.

"What has kept us alive for 241 years is that we finally come to agreement and move forward," he said.

"Factions don't work, in the end, in this country. A fractured nation is not a nation that will long survive."

Members of One Region and other Northwest Indiana entities working to find consensus across geographic and political lines should be encouraged, though.

Consensus-building is alive and well in our state and Region in very pronounced ways.

Region officials, Gov. Eric Holcomb and several federal Hoosier lawmakers are unified in ushering in expansions and enhancements to South Shore Line commuter rail, for example.

Northwest Indiana police and emergency personnel regularly set the tone of cooperation through shared crime-fighting and emergency-response resources.

Democrats and Republicans have boarded the promise of train expansion in a very unified way.

Meanwhile, heavy doses of division continue along the partisan lines of many national issues, and the extremes of both sides appear to possess voices far louder than their true numbers show.

We don't always have to agree, but at some point our nation must follow the example of those who have learned to come together for the greater good.

"Democracies are fragile. That's their very nature," Seawell added, speaking directly to the mission of One Region, which aims to build consensus on key Northwest Indiana policies and projects. "And ours is in a place in time where what you represent in this room and what you do together is priceless, is critical, is absolutely necessary."

Our nation's survival doesn't depend on everyone agreeing. It does, however, depend on moving peaceably forward with the most achievable compromises we can live with.

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