During my college years, I spent a summer in London as a part of an internship sponsored by the London School of Economics. It was a great summer in many ways. One of the things I enjoyed most was the animated debates. An evening in the pub consisted of people taking sides on an issue and arguing strongly for that point of view … even when they believed just the opposite to be true. It was entertainment. It was mind-broadening to try to understand people who think differently.
I enjoy debate on the taboo subjects of religion and politics with a worthy adversary who has facts, perspective, and the ability to hear a different viewpoint. As President of the Catholic student organization on my college campus, I completed 52 hours of Mormon indoctrination while openly being clear I disagreed with their fundamental premise that God had abandoned the church because of its many human failings. I partnered with the 30 religious organizations on campus to stimulate public debate about religious beliefs, including non-believers. I benefited greatly from the debate and dialogue. It was healthy and respectful.
“I Disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it“ quote is often attributed to Voltaire. While the origin is debated, there is no question that it is the heart of democracy.
It pains me to see the polarization that I now see in this country. Voltaire would roll over in his grave. I would like to say my love of debate has kept me with Voltaire, and above the fray. It has not. As hard as I try … I am astonished at what is said by who and to whom. I am astonished when my view of others is changed by hearing their political beliefs. How did I get to this point? How did so many of us get to this point?
Just Listen a Little Longer
What if we embraced more Voltaire in our day-to-day life? What if we tried harder to hear what our “crazy” uncle is afraid of when we meet for the holidays, instead of writing him off with a sarcastic comment. After all, it will not kill us to listen a little longer and still know we can disagree. What if we were willing to consider that at least some of our own beliefs are not shared by others who are of good faith and character? What if we held on to the possibility of good intent of others, even if we disagree with their conclusions?
The facts are that the world is the best it has ever been in terms of health, wealth, safety, and lack of war. There is progress on many fronts of social justice. That doesn’t mean people believe it to be true. It doesn’t mean there is not much more to do. If people feel afraid for their safety, or afraid for their financial future they will not see the good. We all act on what we believe to be true for us. Having empathy, forgiveness and grace for others … particularly those with whom we disagree, is what we can do personally.
There was a lab experiment where monkeys were put in cages and exposed to flashing lights and loud sounds that created high stress. In the experiment, they were able to cut the stress in half by putting two monkeys together in the same cage … all else was the same. Just the connection to others can help us reduce our stress. Just listening to each other a little longer might reduce stress.