The Other I

December 9, 2008

Listening is hard to do

Filed under: Cultural Differences,Survival Strategies,Uncategorized — theotheri @ 9:54 pm

Today is the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,  the day the United Nations declared that all human beings have the right to live in peace and dignity.  The right to escape the degradation and limitations of dire poverty has often been one of the high lights of these rights. 

I think the right to think and believe whatever one chooses is today also one of the most important rights we need to fight for.  Governments, communities, religious institutions, schools, friends and families all are capable of exerting degrading influence to prevent people from holding what are considered to be objectionable views and values.  Some  may indeed be degrading and destructive.   

Often they are not:  the ideas of others are merely threatening.  But whatever the case, refusing to listen to another point of view will not make it go away.  It will simply make it impossible to try to convince someone of another alternative.  Or to be convinced oneself.

One of the things I like best about President Obama is his capacity to listen to a lot of points of view he disagrees with.  If that weren’t true, he wouldn’t be appointing such a variety of dissenting opinions to positions in Washington.  Clearly he is not threatened by those who don’t necessarily agree with him – even on very important things.  And so I believe him when he says he is willing to talk to Iran or other countries whom President Bush has said have not met his preconditions for discussions.

For the last couple of months several people have objected most vociferously to my book “The Big Bang to Now” on the grounds that it is not grounded in Truth as it is revealed in scripture.  Obviously it is not a view I share, but it is a view that I am willing to discuss.  But a lot of people aren’t.   Either they want to declaim without listening, or simply don’t  want to get involved in controversy at all.  More than once, people have suggested that the topic simply be closed to further debate.

I won’t go so far as to say that silencing debate is equivalent to killing those who do not accept your particular beliefs, but I think it springs from the same fear.

But I also appreciate that discussion and debate on important issues is a lot harder than I thought it was when I was young.  And it’s dangerous.  Whether it’s religion or politics, families, friends, and communities all over the world have found that relationships can founder and be ripped apart when we disagree on issues that reflect our fundamental values. 

And yet one of the biggest challenges facing us on our planet today is to learn to live together.  All the Muslims are not going to convert all the Christians, all the fundamentalists are not going to become liberal, all the Palestinians are not going to become Israelis, of the Irish Catholics become Protestant.  We need to do something beside slam doors.

I recognize the impulse in myself not to talk to people who I think are somehow “beyond the pale,” and I fight it.  But sometimes I do not have the strength or the wisdom to carry on a dialogue that is constructive rather than alienating. 

I think sometimes that the challenges of global warming look simple compared to the challenge of accepting our differences.

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