Sadly, it seems that hate, bigotry, and an "us versus them" attitude in the world is becoming even more common these days. The human race was doing pretty well in this area until recently, but then things started to change. Kindness and compassion for one another has kind of gone out the window. What is necessary for worldwide peace and prosperity is more kindness and more compassion...not less. But how do we find them in a world seemingly gone mad?
Ms. Truitt urges "the honoring of others in a way that grants them the grace of their own autonomy and allows for mutual discovery." The question is how do we find within ourselves the capacity and willingness to honor "otherness" where we see only ignorance and bigotry in beliefs that are not only polar opposites of our own, but also dangerous to the very fabric of society?
Interestingly, we can look to the late Carl Sagan for help with this. Mr. Sagan, the world-renown astronomer and astrophysicist, has written much on how we can bridge our convictions and compassion when dealing with those who disagree with us, perhaps even attacking our beliefs. Mr. Sagan eloquently wrote, "When citizens are asked to swear in American courts of law to 'tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,' humans are asked to do the impossible. It is simply beyond our powers. Our memories are fallible; even scientific truth is merely an approximation; and we are ignorant about nearly all of the Universe." Humans, especially, are deeply attached to their beliefs; they define their reality and are thus elementary to their very selves. That means that when someone's beliefs are attacked, it can often seen as personal. And it's as true for one human as it is for another; that's where the us versus them attitude comes into play. Mr. Sagan offers some wise advice for reconciling their "intellectual righteousness with their human fallibility." Kindness and compassion, he says, is the best way to overcome differences.
He added, though, that kindness doesn't have to mean assent. But there are times, like in the case of bigotry and hate speech, when we have to confront and critique these harmful beliefs. "For every silent assent will encourage [the person] next time, and every vigorous dissent will cause him/her to think twice." There's a fine line between acceptance of personal beliefs and condoning dangerous behaviors. Figuring out a prudent balance takes wisdom. Sagan argues that the greatest detriment to reason is when we let our reasonable and righteous convictions slip into self-righteousness. That, he says, is the deadly force of polarization. Us vs. Them is a sense that we have a monopoly on the truth; that anyone who doesn't believe as we do are stupid morons. "If you're sensible, you'll see it My way," think many humans, "and if you're not, you're beyond redemption." Sagan warns that this thinking is unconstructive. He believed, as do many, that a compassionate approach works best.
The central point of Mr. Sagan's writings on this subject is that humans are all human; greatly perturbed by fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. And in seeking to calm yourselves, you sometimes anchor yourselves in irrational and ignorant "ideologies" that offer you a sense of stability, even though it is illusory. Sagan calls for "compassion for kindred spirits in a common quest." A 21 year-old Hillary Rodham asserted, "we are all of us exploring a world that none of us understand." And how right, and forward thinking, she was!
The world is changing. It changes daily. Keeping up with, and accepting, these massive changes can be scary, especially when they call into questions are own deeply-help beliefs. Ignorance does, I believe, arise from a feeling of "powerlessness in a complex troublesome, and unpredictable world." Being open to change, learning all we can before making up our minds on something, offering compassion to those who are different...this is the way forward. "Envisioning a society capable of cultivating both critical thinking and kindness," Sagan insists, "can start with the role and responsibility of the media."
We all need to do our part to stand up to hatred and bigotry while remaining compassionate to those who have different beliefs than our own. It's a difficult task. But if anyone is up to the challenge, it you humans. I have faith that you can, and will, pull it off...even if it doesn't look very likely right this minute.