I woke up a bit earlier than everyone else who was in my house on the day after Christmas. I did not want to interrupt anyone’s slumber because we had all experienced a very busy two days of celebrating. I sat quietly in my front room reading various articles and opinion pieces from the BBC, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. There was a common theme of self analysis in each of them, an attempt to understand the feelings of disconnect and chaos that currently define so many of our interactions. Each author attempted to explain why he/she thought that we appeared to be moving farther and farther apart from each other in the very time that a modicum of unity would be most helpful. While they bandied about many different ideas about causes and effects, problems and solutions, the consensus was that we have separated ourselves into groups that isolate us from the feelings and thoughts of those who disagree with us. In other words, we purposely avoid quieting our minds and opinions long enough to hear why someone from the “other side” thinks so differently.
None of the articles suggested that we should abandon honest debate about solutions to our common problems, but they all contended that we must first begin by knowing exactly why each side congealed into a particular way of thinking. In other words, we have to understand the points of view and why they are so important to each group if we are ever going to be able to concede to a bit of compromise. We must realize what motivates behaviors and ideas that we do not generally understand. This kind of analysis and willingness to hear the other person has to be a two way street or we will ultimately accomplish nothing.
Obviously learning how to accomplish the difficult feat of hearing ideas that seem to defy logic to us is highly charged with possibilities of moving even farther apart. It may lead to hurts and misunderstandings and even unwillingness to change even a tiny bit. On the other hand, such an exercise if done with good intentions might actually lead us to a realization of the logic and good intentions that drive each other’s choices. We don’t have to agree with them, but our discourse will become more about attempting to work together than about arguing over who is right and who is wrong.
I learned a bit of wisdom from my reading but also from considering conversations and comments that I heard during the two days of intense revelry in which I imbibed over the span of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I keenly felt the frustrations of people that I deeply love who differ on so many issues. There was a quiet divide within our family with both sides feeling misunderstood, but still desperately wanting to continue loving each other. There was an unspoken wish that we might turn back the clock and just be blissfully unaware of our divide. It was so much easier when we did not know that we would react so differently to a virus or to the current political issues.
What I noticed as I listened to conversations is that every single person, regardless of where they fell on the various spectrums of current topics, genuinely believed that he or she was on the right side of history. Each person only wanted the best for everyone, but their ideas for solving societal problems often differed. Sadly, there was also a certain level of condescending belief that the other side’s logic was somehow faulty or even toxic. There was more of a tendency to defend positions than to genuinely strive to know the reasons for another’s differing ways of viewing the world. Often the older people lectured the younger persons rather than just listening to their ways of thinking, a tendency that has plagued humanity throughout history.
It is a human desire to be heard. When we think that nobody is paying attention to us or that they are misjudging us we feel isolated and even hurt. We search for people who embrace us for who we are. Thus many groups are formed. We avoid the outsiders who make us feel small in their estimation that our ideas are somehow ignorant. This is nothing new in the long arc of history and sadly it often leads to great strife, a moment when it feels as though the center will not hold as things fall apart.
Time and again after protests and movements that inspire violence we humans end up engaged in wars that we do not want. Evil actors take advantage of our divisions and push all reason and compromise aside. We fight with one another even as we know in our hearts that our situations should not have come to such dire extremes. We end the battles with treaties of peace that more often than not mask the facts that we have not yet truly found a way to work together.
I heard the rumblings of discontent and disconnect in the conversations of those that I most love. The differing philosophies within my extended family are but a microcosm of the world at large. We actually love each other deeply, so the fissures that come to the surface tend to be temporary, but the hurt still lurks below the surface. Such a situation is being echoed in virtually every family across the globe and across time. Somehow even with those we know best, we insist on arguing our points rather than politely listening to each individual’s rationale for his or her ways of thinking. We are more inclined to to try to change minds than to understand them. Therein lies the universal problem that we all face.
I intend to try to silence my mind and simply listen more from here forward. I know it is not always easy. I put my foot into my mouth all too often. I hurt feelings when that is something I never intended to do. I plan to think a bit more before rendering my opinions or reacting to things that bother me. This is my goal for 2022. I know I will falter, but hopefully I will do better and widen my horizons to gaze through the eyes of those who appear to see things differently than I do.