The challenges we face in communicating and understanding one another are formidable. Americans have always been politically contentious, as one would expect in a democratic republic. But, as we all know, something has changed. Public discourse has been stifled and personal relationships degraded by an atmosphere dominated by fear and distrust. Alienation has degenerated into open conflict and hostility. Our differences are many and they are significant.
The failure of meaningful dialogue has obstructed communication, suppressed perceptual sensitivity, and closed the door to understanding.
The observations offered in the first half of my forthcoming book reflect on the American character and the past—ideas and perspectives that transcend partisan politics. We have a responsibility to reflect on the history that has led us to the place where we now find ourselves.
No one has a window to the truth. Our knowledge and perspective are influenced by personal experience and investigation. Nothing is ever quite what the human mind and imagination make it out to be. And in this extraordinary time, we are confronted with rumor, misinformation, and manipulative politics—all of which degrade our ability to perceive things accurately.
If we are serious about seeking a future we can live with, where freedom is protected and prosperity has a foundation in civil order, we must overcome the forces of disintegration. No enduring solutions will be found where there is alienation and destructiveness.
The United States was conceived as a nation of laws because prosperity is not possible where the subversion of trust dominates the social order. Law can be debated, negotiated, altered. But the rule of law is a fundamental principle of human security which cannot be subverted without the eventual collapse of human civilization. Once it is gone, there will be no safety and no easy recovery.
A future that affirms the constructive vision embedded in the Constitution might not be in the interests of a few. But the vast majority of Americans clearly desire to see the possibility for civility, cooperation, and dependability in the future of this nation.
The challenge we face in defusing distrust calls for authentic dialogue and a willingness to engage in working relationships. This is fundamental. Nothing will otherwise be possible.
So the question before us is whether, and to what extent, we are willing to accept the conditions and discipline it requires. As demanding as this might appear, it is a project with clearly defined requirements and available means.
To begin, communities will need to sit down and agree on guidelines that make respectful communication possible and constructive action possible. OK, listen now! This is not a normal situation. We are hovering on the edge of collapse. So, acceptable language and rules of engagement must be defined and agreed upon among neighbors, in communities, and in business relationships.
This is essential. The necessity for creating secure conditions for mutual assistance and collaboration will have to be taken seriously. If we want this potential to come alive, we will have to respect and protect it.
As I have repeatedly said, engaging with diversity does not mean altering personal views or opinions. Diversity is a form of wealth. It provides us with knowledge, experience, and the learned skills that allow us to meet shared needs and resolve local problems.
There are many places in this world where we can express our views, and can do so every day. But in the local community, let’s do this with objective concern for the reality at hand. In other words, let’s not inflict strong feelings on others in a manner that compromises working relationships, safety and trust.
The truth about people who differ from us is not what the politics of conflict want us to think. Rather it is what they actually think, believe, and wish for. Without this information we are flying blind.
Understanding is only possible when we listen with the intention of understanding.
In a collapsing civil order, we can set aside our personal philosophies provisionally. Because safety will require effective communication, graceful collaboration, and dependable relationships.
You may watch for the next post on or about December 4.
Note to readers: An introduction to the coming book, and several sample chapters are available in draft, linked at the top of the homepage.
Perfect for this election month. Mona
Sent from the all new AOL app for Android
I have been thinking long & hard about this issue. The question that comes to me is, how can we have a dialogue if the people involved have been subjected to lies, propaganda & conspiracy theories that are so embedded & believed to be truth? There was a time that The Fairness Doctrine, protected all of us from being subjected to lies, propaganda & conspiracy theories but that was repealed. The more disinformation that is propagated, the more we are driven apart. It seems to me that until or unless the lies, propaganda & conspiracy theories are stopped it will be very difficult to have a civil conversation & find the common thoughts & ideas to help heal the wounds that have been inflicted over so many years. We really have our work cut out for us. I realize that we must find the subjects that we can agree about, gain trust on basic thoughts & ideas to build a strong foundation from which to move forward. It won’t be easy but nothing is impossible if we use our resources to bring us back together. “United we stand, divided we fall.” Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android
Thank you, Pat. I understand you. My forthcoming book addresses this problem head-on. This problem will not be fixed for a long time. Americans who recognize the necessity for genuine dialog will also understand the necessity for civility and listening to others with the intent to understand. Further to this, creating safe, dependable local communities where such dialog can happen, will require rising above our differences–to the extent necessary for problem-solving. In this deepening crisis there will be no way to meet shared needs without such cooperation, however limited. Finally, as Americans are confronted with existential threats, we may finally choose to engage with our neighbors, to learn from a diversity of experience, knowledge, and perspective, and to share learned skills. Each of us can start now to identify those few around us who are ready to build community. Tom
To be open to discussion and seriously admit to ourselves that we may be wrong and the need to listen to others with an open mind is to put our beliefs to a real test
Yes, Tim, this is often true–but not necessarily. When we decide to actually listen for the purpose of genuine understanding, we sometimes discover that a perceived opponent is actually far closer to us than we realized–and perhaps ready to work with us to meet shared needs or seek acceptable compromise. Tom