The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. ~#3 of 8 Core Principles of the Center for Action and Contemplation
In Richard Rohr’s October 3 daily meditation, he says that St. Francis knew that oppositional energy creates more of the same. And so, rather than fighting systems directly and risking becoming a mirror image of them, he lived his way into a new way of thinking.
You do not think yourself into a new way of living, you live yourself into a new way of thinking. ~#8 of 8 Core Principles of the Center for Action and Contemplation
My involvement in Better Angels is a way for me to practice the wisdom of St. Francis during this time when our country is being tested and the impeachment inquiry threatens to polarize us even more. It isn’t the only way to be part of the solution, but it is an important way. And it is a way that works for me. It is relationally oriented … and it helps me keep my emotions from running amuck.
Better Angels does not attempt to change people’s opinions. Our focus is giving each side a forum for stating their views in a safe, respectful environment. Even so, these conversations are not easy.
My Personal Experience with a Difficult Conversation
For some months, I have been attending the Lebanon Alliance meetings. These monthly meetings are for BA members who, after attending a Red/Blue Workshop, can work on projects where common ground has been found. The Lebanon Alliance found common ground around the issue of big money in politics. Our initiative called “No Ballot, No Buck” is our attempt to address this concern.
At the September Alliance meeting, we engaged in the practice of sharing concerns and listening for understanding. I was paired with Jeff, a new member. I listened closely and reflected back what I heard. I am a good listener. He mostly shared his political philosophy. I didn’t fully understand his concern about democracy, but what he said piqued my curiosity.
The concern I shared with Jeff was about voter suppression. He thought the media blows it out of proportion. I told him I had read a well-researched book about it and shared some of the shenanigans that give me concern.
I came home and did some research on Jeff’s concern. The next time I saw him at a Better Angels event, I told him what I had done and that I now have a better understanding of him.
Jeff said that he had heard something about voter suppression. He took note of it because of what I had shared. I was pleased that he acknowledge my concern. I felt respected.
Later that evening, Jeff approached me to inquire about that well-researched book I mentioned. I was thrilled when he wrote the name down.
At the October Alliance meeting, Jeff told me he had purchased One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying Our Democracy by Carol Anderson and it is next in his que to read.
While Jeff and I will continue to disagree on many aspects of politics, I am grateful we are able to interact as friends who seek understanding and common ground. I am meeting good and kind people on both sides … people who are concerned and are willing to risk engaging in these difficult conversations.
What are we becoming?
In her “Sunday Paper blog post,” Maria Shriver asked this question after witnessing the flack Ellen DeGeneres received for being friends with George W. Bush. She was stunned that Ellen felt the need to defend herself.
I believe it’s our job right now to try and figure out what we have in common. After all, God only knows we are really good at letting everyone else know how divided we are and how much we don’t have in common. ~Maria Shriver
Validation from Prominent Political Folks
Susan Rice, Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright, and Samantha Powers are among those I heard interviewed over the past couple of weeks. They and others emphasized the importance of talking with each other respectfully and seeking understanding. They say our democracy depends on it. They stressed how those who seek to weaken our democracy work to foment division among us.
Many Ways to Find Common Ground
Fortunately, there are many groups promoting understanding and respect across the divide. Better Angels is but one of them … and the one available to me.
On Fareed Zakaria’s short Sunday segment “What in the World,” I was fascinated to learn about another group called America in One Room. James Fishkin and Larry Diamond of Stanford University use an in-depth process called Deliberative Polling.
Over the weekend, participants pour over briefing booklets, talk with experts, and participate in small discussion groups on topics such as
- Foreign policy
- The environment
- The economy
America in One Room focuses on polling before and after the weekend to see if anyone has changed their mind. While some changes of opinion were expected, the results among the 523 registered voters who participated in the Dallas, Texas weekend far exceeded their expectations. On some issues, conservatives became more liberal and progressives became more moderate. Their work shows that there is no issue intractable if citizen’s are engaged.
Better Angels, Living Room Conversations, America in One Rom are just a few of the many ways out there to address the challenges we face as a nation. No one way is right for everyone. What is important is to find a way to be part of the solution … a way that works for you.
And I hope when you express your passions in whatever way you choose, you will consider the wisdom of St. Francis.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy
O Divine Master, grant that I may
Not so much seek to be consoled as to console
To be understood, as to understand
To be loved, as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
And it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to Eternal Life