lundi, mars 27, 2006

Towards a more genuine public dialogue

Perhaps I should blame my dad for the fact that I'm congenitally prone to seeing both sides of an issue. My father is a retired historian. That is, he's retired from teaching undergraduates, but not from taking the bird's-eye view. It is probably from him that I picked up the slightly fatalistic sense that "it's all been said before" by a Cicero, an Augustine, an Alexis de Tocqueville or a Yogi Berra. Said before, and probably said better. Partisans have been debating hot button topics like sin and salvation, justice and mercy, sex and celibacy for millennia. But have we made any progress in resolving our disputes? While I can be as bull-headed and opinionated as anyone on the staff of Fox News or of the Nation, I'm eager to hear voices raised in opposition, or disagreement, or skepticism. In cases where I am reluctant to do that, I usually figure it's telling me more about myself than it is about the other person or the alternative point of view.

Given the polarized nature of public discourse over the past five years (since September 11, 2001) it would be helpful if we as citizens were able to do a better job of finding solutions rather than blaming the 'other side" and going on our dismal way. One very small but important step in resolving major issues is learning to check our reflexive self-righteous attitudes at the door and seek out folks who are different enough to challenge us and tick us off. As for our opponents (forsooth! I mean partners in dialogue) if we indicate that we are open to listening first and judging later, we might find that most people are a lot more willing to give us the time of day than we think. On the other hand, I am constantly surprised by how many genuine weirdos there are out there. If it's any comfort, history is full of them, too.

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