Inside Other Hearts
Sitting in our church choir, facing the congregation, many of whom I have known for decades, starts me thinking about each life as I know it. Scores of people, each with a set of life experiences like no other. Each is looking at the world through a unique prism that is polished and shaped by years of life events and random experience.
I see teachers and lawyers, housewives and career women, executives and laborers, military veterans including one who helped liberate Nazi concentration camps in WW II, I see widows and widowers, divorcees and never marrieds. I see people who have had hard and troubled lives sitting next to the highly privileged. I see victims of racism, sexism and all manner of discrimination.
I can’t help but imagine what is locked inside each heart and soul. I try to picture the images of the D Day invasion and the death camps that are etched into the WW II veteran’s memory. I try to empathsize with those who have lost children. I wonder how being an abused spouse or child shapes one’s view of the world.
While it is broadly accepted by people who study such things that we are all born with some innate knowledge, we are for the most part a blank slate at birth and most of what we become is written on that slate by experience. By a complex process this almost infinite array of infuences forms our moral foundations and the driving principles behind our decisions and opinions.
Our intuition/emotion based opinions fit into patterns that align with others and lead to identification with groups like political parties and religious sects. Attempting to reinforce our positions we look for facts and reasons to justify them and then place a wall between ourselves and those whose views are not like ours. When we develop a “reject first and question later” response to other people we deny ourselves the value of their experience and we forfeit the right to be heard.
Other people know things that we don’t know because they perceive the world through a prism that is uniquely their own, shaped by experiences that are different than ours. If we seek out their opinions and listen to the facts and reasons which provide their foundations, we will become enriched and enlightened even though we may never be brought around to their point of view. By listening, analyzing and giving honest consideration to the opinions of others we will become better decision makers, more persuasive debaters and more effective partners in finding common ground.
When we automatically reject information and opinons because of the political party, religion, race, news network or any other source outside of our own group we are facilitating conflict and ignoring an opportunity to participate in the forming of “A More Perfect Union.” Sometimes we will go so far as to invent qualities, characteristics and beliefs which we assign to other groups in order to justify even more intense negative feelings.
Some will accuse the political right of being racist, homophobic and engaged in a war on women. Still others will see the political left as socialists who want to take guns from citizens, dumb down public education and support government control of nearly everything. Along the way we accuse various news sources of spreading misinformation if they do not support our view and try to shout down any public speaker who does not subscribe to our particular political orthodoxy.
Complaints about hyper partisanship and government gridlock are wide spread, but enthusiasm for civil political discourse in the town square in support of toning down the contentious rhetoric is less evident. We will not succeed in living well among others until we accept the fact that our group is not “all right” and other groups are not “all wrong” but that together we can make things, not perfect, but better. We will continue on our current destructive path until we tap the collective wisdom that is available to us and use it to at last reach our full potential as a nation.