Thursday, 6 May 2010

About Election Day - and Life

If you’re someone who only reads the editorial page of The New York Times, try glancing at the page of The Wall Street Journal once in awhile. If you’re a fan of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, try reading a few columns on the Huffington Post website. It may make your blood boil; your mind may not often be changed. But the practice of listening to opposing views is essential for effective citizenship. So too is the practice of engaging in different experiences with different kinds of people.

For four years at Michigan, you have been exposed to diverse thinkers and scholars; professors and students. Do not narrow that broad intellectual exposure just because you’re leaving here. Instead, seek to expand it. If you grew up in a big city, spend some time with some who grew up in a rural town. If you find yourself only hanging around with people of your race or your ethnicity or your religion, broaden your circle to include people who’ve had different backgrounds and life experiences. You’ll learn what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes, and in the process, you’ll help make this democracy work.

– President Obama

And if you're a conservative Catholic who defends the institution, listen to those of us who won't. We drive you crazy, but it's how you engage. And yes, that means those of us who are pro-choice, pro-women priests, pro-married priests need to hear you out.

True engagement and real empathy are the only ways to grow, learn and move forward.

I know I'm in trouble when I won't let myself be challenged on a point of view: it means I think it's weak, or deep down, I know I'm just holding onto it b/c it's what I know. That's where I most need to be challenged. The views I put out to be challenged, I test, I make sure have a strong line of argument and that feel right - those views are rock solid. The ones I keep back - well, they're the ones that need to be at the front of the line.

I'll never forget my friend Catherine wanting to discuss the death penalty when I didn't. I was pro, she was anti, and that was it. But I made myself open it up, discuss it with her.

Halfway through, I looked at her and said...

"I don't actually believe this."

She smiled - she'd already guessed.

That's why engagement with those who are not like us, who don't believe what we believe, whose beliefs make us go "WHAT THE FUCK?" is so important. Comfort generated by surrounding ourselves with those like us, who mirror our beliefs, who hang on our every word, is a dangerous place to be - perhaps the most dangerous.

As Kahlil Gibran once said:

Or have you only comfort, and the lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and becomes a host, and then a master?

Ay, and it becomes a tamer, and with hook and scourge makes puppets of your larger desires.

Though its hands are silken, its heart is of iron.

It lulls you to sleep only to stand by your bed and jeer at the dignity of the flesh.

It makes mock of your sound senses, and lays them in thistledown like fragile vessels.

Verily the lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul, and then walks grinning in the funeral.

Stop. And listen. And remember that being uncomfortable is a very good thing to be. Growth needs resistance - they're not called 'growing pains' without reason.

And so - crouch. Touch. Pause...

And engage.

1 comment:

Ariel said...

You're very, very good at making me notice that I don't believe something I'm saying. I can't even remember all of the times you've done it, so I won't count them, but there's been a lot.