Read any column about Hungary today and it will tell you how Prime Minister Viktor Orban is tearing up checks and balances and asserting one-sided control over Hungary’s democratic institutions. The European Union, the IMF, the Venice Commission and the U.S. government have all responded, demanding changes in many of the laws hastily waved through Hungary’s Fidesz-dominated parliament.

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso met Mr. Orban again in Brussels on Tuesday, in their latest attempt to resolve outstanding political issues in order to clear the way for financial talks between Hungary and the IMF. The delay is costly to both sides: The absence of an IMF agreement makes it more expensive for Hungary to borrow. It also raises the risks to the EU as a whole of having yet another member on the financial brink.

Within Hungary, the response to EU political critiques has varied. While Hungary’s liberal opposition has welcomed the Western push-back against Fidesz, conservative Hungarians reject the criticism, believing that its domestic reforms are needed precisely to protect Hungarian democracy in the face of corrupt former communists. Western criticisms have given rise to sharp anti-EU sentiment in the public, bolstering the fortunes of the far-right Jobbik Party just when the world needs Hungary to reinforce its European and trans-Atlantic ties.

The West should take a deep breath. Democracy is an experiment. It is evolutionary; it requires constant adjustment. It does not take only one form, and it does not move in a straight-line progression. Americans know that from our own experience right up to the present day.

Hungary also fits within that framework: trying to fix problems, making mistakes along the way, trying again. But that’s the nature of democracy. “A more perfect union” means precisely that the union is never perfect.

A dose of humility is therefore in order. In America, we constantly argue over fundamental questions about democracy. Should our government be able to force people to buy insurance? Should government decide whether a gay marriage is in fact a marriage? Do women have the right to choose an abortion? Does it challenge U.S. checks and balances for a president to suggest that “unelected judges” should not overturn a law passed by an elected Congress?

All legitimate questions. None of this makes America less of a democracy—just the opposite. It makes us exactly what a democracy is—a messy, competitive, emotional, hardscrabble and evolving way of making sure the compact between society and government stays fresh.

Likewise, throughout Europe, one sees issues that affect democratic practice, as well as echoes of nationalist sentiment. For instance, both France and Italy recently expelled Roma to the East. Neither the U.S. or the EU protested. But equally, we don’t worry much about democracy in either place.

Most European nations are wrestling with a similarly difficult list of constitutional questions. Can Europe solve its own budget and debt crisis? An Italian prime minister owned most of the country’s television media. Should the EU or U.S. therefore have sanctioned Italy? Is it good democratic practice for the EU to replace the Greek and Italian governments without an election? In the U.K., social media users have been arrested for “hate speech.” But is anyone seriously worried about free speech in the U.K.?

The answer to such questions inevitably revolves around matters of degree and context. Established democracies have all gone through evolution. We may disagree over big issues, but we are all firmly rooted. That is just the kind of sympathetic understanding with which we should also look at Hungary.

No one would suggest that all the new Hungarian reforms and laws are perfect or even sensible. Quite the contrary—there should and indeed are lively debates about them, and many have been amended.

Further change is still needed, on preserving the independence of the central bank and the judiciary, for example. But we should recognize that Hungary is like the rest of us: We are witnessing struggles within a democracy, not against it.

So what is to be done? First, we should show a bit more humility and tolerance, both within Hungary and internationally. After all, we are all on the same side.

We should listen to each other more—internationally and within Hungary. And Hungarians should try to restore that culture of politeness for which they used to be renowned.

We should constantly seek self-correction. Of course it is possible to fix things once they become a problem. But it is even better to fix them before they become a problem.

We should show “a decent respect for the opinions of mankind.” The West should respect Hungary, and equally, the Hungarian government should explain itself better, making clear in its own words how it is fighting for our common cause of freedom. After all, 19th-century Hungarian freedom-fighter Lajos Kossuth spent a lot of time doing just that.

Democracy can indeed go off the rails. Look at Russia, or Belarus, or even Ukraine. Hitler certainly unwound democracy in Germany. The cautionary tales are real.

But Hungary is nowhere near such an unraveling. I believe in Hungary and the Hungarian people. I know that Hungarians cherish freedom and democracy, and will fight to see them realized at home. I know that perfecting Hungary’s democracy is the intention of the government, the opposition, and the West as well. Democracy is never perfect—that’s why we have to keep working at it. Let’s try to do it together.

Kurt Volker, a former US ambassador to NATO, is a professor of practice at Arizona State University, a senior fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations, and a senior advisor at the Atlantic Council. This article originally appeared on The Wall Street Journal.