Like any self-respecting individual of my generation, I listen to a lot of podcasts at work. I’ve developed a knack for selective listening, allowing myself to tune out most of the boring blabbery while I work, knowing that my ears will perk up when I hear something of interest. There is one podcast, however, that nearly always keeps me listening: On Being. This show interviews scholars, musicians, religious leaders, scientists, people from all walks of life, to discuss matters of humanity and, well, being. What I like most about this show is how it always gets me thinking about my own perspectives on the issues they discuss.
Recently, the show has been broadcasting segments from the Civil Conversations Project. I think everyone should be required to listen to them. Period. The premise of these conversations is having an open, respectful dialogue with two sides of a morally tricky issue: i.e., abortion. Rather than debating/arguing which side is right, the participants discuss what ideas they agree with from the other side of the issue, and bridge the “grey” areas of these issues, trying to get at what makes them so divisive and attempting to vocalize ways we can move toward a common understanding and ultimately a solution.
I have nothing but respect for people who voice their opinions loudly and act on these opinions to further causes they believe in. What I have no tolerance for, however, is people who are so blinded by their own opinions that they become incapable of considering other perspectives. There is a quote on this subject from Thich Nhat Hanh that I particularly enjoy:
No single tradition monopolizes the truth. We must glean the best values of all traditions and work together to remove the tensions between traditions in order to give peace a chance.
What troubles me the most about the upcoming election is the apparent lack of humanity. Too often we forget that we really are all in this together. United we stand, divided we fall. It’s cliché, but it’s very, very true. Fighting about which polarized side of politics or religion will make the best decisions for our country is pointless, because most people do not fall into one of those extreme categories. Even if they did, this is not what our moral and religious traditions teach us to act upon. Every major religion, at its pure core, teaches compassion, acceptance, and benevolence.
If we could just be open to the idea of having civil conversations with those we view as “opponents” that would be the first step toward a unified, successful, country. If your values lie solely in the material world, then perhaps this doesn’t matter to you. But for those whose values exist beyond their liquidated assets, this is a matter of moral concern. No matter whom we elect, as long as we are content to remain divided and hateful toward one another, we will stay in a moral recession, regardless of what happens to our economy.