Scene 1: A buddy forwards me an email that rails against U.S. foreign aid, because itâ€™s taking away from Social Security. Iâ€™ve read enough to know thatâ€™s not trueâ€”foreign aid constitutes maybe 1% of the federal budgetâ€”and I send him a reply to that effect with three links from reputable (though allegedly liberal) sources. My buddy appreciates the input but still thinks there might be something to the email.
Scene 2: A pillar of a conservative church comes out to the congregation, one family at a time. When he lays out the case for LGBT acceptanceâ€”using the Bible and countering the oft-cited passages against homosexualityâ€”people tend to believe him. Then he leaves, and theyâ€™re worried that his â€œsilver tongueâ€ has simply deceived them and distorted what theyâ€™ve always known as the truth.
Whatâ€™s happening here?
My knee-jerk response is exasperation with the people who â€œwonâ€™t see sense.â€ They hear logical reasons to change their minds, they have access to facts and statistical trends and whatnot, and yet they retreat into their current mindsets. I want to use the word ignorance in its root sense: an ignoring of whatâ€™s in front of oneâ€™s face.
But thatâ€™s wrong on so many levels. Most important, it dismisses the sheer power of the deeper forces that move us: culture, upbringing, religion, values, the â€œtribesâ€ in which we live, our mental health and emotional needs. All of these contribute to the dense mesh of our beliefs and opinions. Â All have spent decades weaving themselves into our psyches. They will not yield easily. Nor should they, necessarily: often these influences provide us with time-honored insight into the universeâ€”and shape our lives for the better.
But the strength of these influences can keep us from hearing other people in dialogue, no matter how good our intentions. And since we have to share this planet, hearing one another in dialogue is essential.
This is why I believe that logic and facts and processes, while invaluable, will not suffice to create a climate of dialogue. At some level, we must find within ourselves an openness to others, a willingness to hear and weigh entirely different perspectives, a deep sense that the wisdom weâ€™ve gleaned from the forces that move us may not always be correct.
These are attitudes of the heart. If we do not have them, we must find a way to reorient ourselvesâ€”to, as the Shakers sing, turn till â€œwe come round right.â€
Faith is good at this sort of thing. The goal of so many faith traditions is transformation at the core of oneâ€™s essence, usually toward compassion and peacemaking: the very virtues that both fuel and provide the reason for dialogue. When we start with the transformation, we can come to the dialogue table already open to the other; we can listen to the logic and facts and employ the processes more fruitfullyâ€”using our core principles not to block the entry of new ideas, but as a source of wisdom to contribute insights to the conversation.
Yes, we need facts and dialogue processes and ways of coming together, without question. The proper orientation of our hearts is no less important. With all these ingredients working together, who knows how far our dialogue can go?