Saturday, August 22, 2009
© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense
We’ve always found conflict to be of little value. And generally unproductive.
What we’ve found encouraging has been the absence of conflict, despite differences.
We’ve expressed our concerns about the tone of discourse in America, and what it portends for our collective future. We recently ran across a blog whose title might be paraphrased as, “Yell and Scream First, and Then Reason.” We thought, “There’s a lot of that going on,” and later realized that the yelling and screaming usually end the interaction.
In April, we generated a piece entitled, It All Depends on the Price of Your Ticket on the Train. We used Einstein’s Theory of Relativity to show how good people could legitimately have different perceptions of reality, and thus different values and priorities.
In thinking about this issue further, it also occurred to us that who you are willing to engage in a conversation, across from your seat on the train, can significantly affect your view of the world, and what you get out of the journey.
We’re convinced that a citizenry incapable of sitting down together, in some civilized way to collaboratively address problems, will not get the most out of its people long term. The tensions and emotions can only put further strain on that glue which holds them together.
We thought about this issue twice today. The first time was during the re-airing of a presentation on C-Span2 Book TV, of an interview of the Harvard professor who was recently arrested. The presentation aired in February, prior to the controversial arrest. (Click here to see the video.)
We saw a likeable, affable, intelligent man who had worked hard in an academic setting. However, we kept returning to the image painted by many after his arrest: arrogant, elitist, bi-polar, degenerate, a fraud, a clown, and proof that affirmative action does not work.
The second event consisted of the recent comments of two of our regular readers. There have been times in the past when they have seemingly been at each other’s throats. One could not imagine more polar opposites philosophically.
However, earlier this week, they agreed on something. In fact, they have done so on a number of occasions, although perhaps not with the passion with which they have disagreed on others.
We thought about how different their interaction might be if they both appreciated and focused on the views which they share, as opposed to their interaction being defined by the issues on which they differ. We also wondered whether they realized the number of times there was agreement.
There are two “odd ball” relationships which we frequently mention in our presentations on college campuses. The first involves Larry Flynt, publisher of Hustler Magazine, who is generally regarded at the “King of Smut,” a label he relishes.
In one issue of the magazine, he published a parody of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell. He suggested that Falwell’s first sexual encounter with his mother was in an out-house, which prompted Falwell to sue Flynt.
For many years, they traveled around the country debating one another, on the subjects of obscenity and pornography. We saw one during the 1990s, and we were fascinated by their relationship: one of mutual respect, despite their differences. After Falwell's death, Flynt acknowledged that they became great friends.
The second “odd ball” relationship which has always intrigued us is that involving an ardent white, male segregationist and a black, female civil rights advocate, who battled over school desegregation in North Carolina. They are now also the best of friends, and make presentations together regularly.
Earlier we suggested that conflict is unproductive in nature, and that despite differences of opinion, progress might be made in achieving goals, if the focus is shifted from the conflict. Our recently minted President suggested that he was going to stress the ties that bind us, rather than highlight the differences which separate us.
Thus far, it does not appear to have worked out that way. Interestingly, in the blogosphere, the most consistent comment we see made about Mr. Obama is that he has done more to set back civil discourse during his brief tenure, than anyone in the past.
We suspect that this loud rancor has little to do with the current occupant of the Oval Office, and more to do with some deep seated, unresolved issues which have been developing for centuries. They’ve just now clearly revealed themselves through the tears in the fabric of our nation, now that we facing inclement weather.
We’d best take note now, and engage those across from our train seat in an honest and direct conversation, lest we all miss the developments outside our train car windows, which is the assault on our prosperity. The glass could break, and make the journey even chillier.
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