Good late Saturday morning from my study,
I have another blog I have been working on for about a week, but have decided to shelve it for the moment and take a different direction. I has some issues with sleeping last night, if I am going to be as transparent as I believe I should. I reposted (shared) the words of a Catholic priest who offered his thoughts as a clergy person about the appropriateness of our President threatening to reopen our national churches as essential businesses. The difficulties with that from both a political and medical standpoint can have people debating for weeks, years, and perhaps decades, but that is not where I want to go with my blog. It would be low-hanging-fruit, to use the phrase to do so. And while sometimes I do post things to create discussion and have people question others, last night was not one of those times. Nonetheless, it caused a number of people to state their views on that post.
One post in particular did more than cause me to pause, it created a somewhat sleepless night. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. The person who posted is a former student from my UW-Stout time and someone for whom I have both appreciation and respect. She was a talented and diligent student and cares deeply for her family, her faith, and the people for whom she cares. I have always known her as a strongly faithful Catholic and she now has a sizable family. I believe she is probably the most incredible mother and also someone who can create something or whip something up, and in spite of the fact she was simple in what she used, you would believe you were visiting a Michelin restaurant. She noted in his response that in spite of holding her tongue on a number of occasions, this time she had to let me know that she disagreed with me . . . and to her credit, let me know, she did. While I am still prone to disagree with her on a number of points she raised, I think it took courage for her to disagree with a former professor of hers and I respect that she did so. She spoke from her heart and from a deep-seated and abiding faith she holds as a Roman Catholic. While it was interesting to me that she did not note she was disagreeing with the words of a Catholic clergy person, she did note the personal consequences being unable to be involved in congregational worship created and the pain she was feeling. Again, I think her intentions were pure and she felt a compelling need to question the position I had laid out by reposting the words of the priest.
I think the difficulty for her (and ultimately for me) is the responses her post created, as is often the case in our present polarized atmosphere, is our struggle to honestly listen, ponder their words carefully, and then respond. I know there is one person from my hometown, a person older than me, and one I still respect as a fellow-Riversider, yet, his sound-byte comments and lack of proofreading push me to my limit. I am not trying to be mean, and I have noted I would like to engage him in conversation, but I am not always sure what is being written. Again, an entirely different issue and fodder for another post, but I do not want to digress too far. The largest difficulty in our particular circumstance is we are afraid and we are angry. The two emotions are intrinsically related, and most often in a split second. What exacerbates this current struggle with trying to balance health and the economy (which will be my next blog – the blog mostly written) is that we have no sense of civility or decorum in our present national cooperative persona. What does that mean? It simply means we have disintegrated to the point that disagreement means there is nothing we can do with that other opinion than lash out. It is modeled for us daily from almost all of our nationally- elected leaders. This sort of pull-the-trigger-and-ask-questions-later that permeates our national, state, local, or interpersonal dialogs can only lead to more division, more dissension, and ultimately to chaos. Democracy is founded on argument, but the role of argument is not to win, the terminal consequence of argument is to come to consensus – to find a place where the majority of people believe they were heard and their opinions mattered. That requires patience and perseverance. It demands that people use some common sense and think about the audience(s) to whom they are speaking and see the purpose as achieving something bigger than themselves. That is difficult in general, but it seems we find it nigh impossible in this current time of fear and uncertainty.
Before I post and even when I write this blog, which generally is used as a way to get me to clear out my jumbled head or heart, I step back and think, sometimes for days. I imagine the other side and what sort of questions will be launched from them. If you follow my Facebook page or you have read this blog, you know that sometimes, there are some rather vociferous arguments. With the exception of one, I have been able to find some area of agreement. The one, and yet I respect that person, seems to do things to merely yank my chain, and I must admit, he has won from time to time. I detest disrespect and as I tell my students if you want to fire me up that is a pretty sure way to do so. Questioning is a necessary aspect of our human nature. If we do not have the desire or the option to question, be are little more than a pawn in a very large chessboard. Certainly pawns have value, but they are the first to be sacrificed for the larger goal of winning the game. I should also note that people with whom I disagree are also thinkers. Please do not assume that I believe my way of thinking is the only way. I come to the position I am from a varied background, and, for instance, when I was in college one of my best friends on my floor was head of Young Republicans and I was the co-chair of Young Democrats with the most amazing person. I understand why some of my friends are Republicans and why they believe the path forward is different than the path I see as more appropriate. I know that there are times I might even overthink things and that can be detrimental. I grew up in a union household with a father whose family was pulled out of the throes of the depression by Roosevelt’s New Deal, and while my father was a rather liberal Democrat, he also believed in hard work and that one must earn their way. He was more socially liberal than in terms of a safety net for people, but then again, he only owned one credit card in his life and the was a gasoline credit card. He believed you paid cash for things, I am not sure he ever had a loan rather than a house mortgage. I am not sure what he would think of our present situation, though I am quite sure we would agree on what I believe is a rather detrimental atmosphere in our current state of affairs.
I think the way beyond fear, which I believe plagues most of us (pun intended) presently is to honestly question, to systematically ponder, and then respectfully disagree when necessary. Each of those couplets seem reasonable, but employing them is so much more difficult that first appears. Each two-word phrase is ideographic in nature. When you say honestly question, so much comes along with it. The same for sytematically ponder or respectfully disagree. Honestly for me means be willing to question your own presuppositions, but also ask from where those presuppositions come? How much of my father remains in me simply because he was my father? It is often times difficult to move beyond our foundational beliefs and concepts because we might feel disloyal. It is more often the case it moves us beyond our comfort zone, and when everything else seems to be disintegrating before us, we will hold on to what we know ever more so tightly. To systematically ponder something is to follow a logical pattern and work through a progression, and for me, it means asking the tough questions I might wish not to ask or, again, more so, I do not want to hear the answer because it will make me uncomfortable. I have a colleague that I have taught both in Wisconsin and here in Bloomsburg with. He is perhaps the most insightful person I have ever met. He can drill down to the main point of an issue more quickly than anyone I know. He sees through the extraneous stuff with what often seems a mere blink-of-an eye. Systematic thought requires a certain detachment, not a lack of emotion, but rather a distance from the emotion that allows one to see the interconnectivity of many issues as well as the sort of domino effect that happens when a decision is made. It is that synthesis that has made the biggest difference for me as I have grown older. We are too willing to box anything and everything, thereby failing to see how there is no decision made in some vacuum. We are social creatures and our decisions affect the social fabric of our country. Again, I do not believe I had a concept of synthesis before I went to Dana and took the humanities sequence. After that, It was impossible for me to not see the congruence of things, to ponder the innate association between things, events, or people. But that is also what taught me a fundamental respect for both where we are as who we are.
When we lose sight of that respect, I believe we lose our bearing as a society or culture. I believe that is what is happening how on multiple levels from our interpersonal conversations to our state and national conversations. The loss of those bearings are being demonstrated, again in my opinion, as our President chooses to unilaterally leave climate change accords, nuclear arms treaties, the WHO funding, or now the Open Skies Treaty, trade agreements, and other things that have been in place, some as long as the time of President Reagan. Again, I am not saying there are not reasons to question position, but there is a certain way that we and others (particularly our allies) have negotiated and worked in accordance. Bear with me, but unilateral decisions by Tweet does not seem respectful or wise, and even when he has been advised differently, he seems to go about things on his own terms. That is a difficult thing for the citizenry of the country to understand when those choices seem to often come from his own head (comments like I go with my gut; I am the smartest person you will know; I know more than my advisors -paraphrases, but relatively accurate). I would love to help someone help me see how respect works in those situations. How for either his own country or the good of the globe can such incredibly earth changing choices be announced in 240 characters, and often not well written? I wish that was the most difficult part, but that is only the beginning. When someone disagrees with him, or someone asks a question for clarification, his response is seldom respectful, what seems to be considered, or thoughtful. I am sure he does think, but merely dismissing someone or calling them names is something we are taught as inappropriate before we even are old enough to go to kindergarten. What did I look like in kindergarten? The initial picture is my kindergarten picture.
I want to respect him . . . seriously I do because the Office of the Presidency deserves that. I want to respect him because of the innate power the Office affords him. I want to respect him as a veteran because I believe in a chain of command. But to equate the idea of trust that one of my former college classmates note in yet another Facebook discussion recently, to respect someone requires they act respectfully. To trust, respect and believe in the integrity of someone occurs when they demonstrate trustworthy behavior, they treat others with respect, and they do not seem to lie about ridiculous things. I one thought about a person I know who sometimes struggles to be truthful. When people lie about important issues it is because they are afraid of their failures and they cannot own up. When people like about things that do not matter, they have no respect of the idea of truth to begin with. That is much more egregious, I would argue. Lying habitually flies in the face of what Charles Fried, a professor from Harvard and Solicitor General under Ronald Reagan, notes when he says, “A good man does not lie. It is this intuition which brings lying so naturally within the domain of things categorically wrong” (Right and Wrong, 54). Sisela Bok, the Swedish ethicist and Philosophy Professor at Harvard notes the following about lying, “What . . . would it be like to live in a world in which truth-telling was not the common practice? In such a world, you could never trust anything you were told or anything you read. You would have to find out everything for yourself, first-hand. You would have to invest enormous amounts of your time to find out the simplest matters” (The Principle of Veracity). I had to read two of her books for my doctoral comprehensive exams. If we have little regard for the truth, we have as little regard for respect. If we have little respect, disagreement becomes a fight and discussion or consensus is not a goal. It seems to me this describes more of our world than I wish it did. It also gives me great pause for where we are going. As I write this on a Memorial Day weekend, I am reminded of all those veterans who either lost their lives in action or particularly those WWII, Korean War, and now even Vietnam veterans who are leaving us daily. I hope we might consider their sacrifices and their belief in a country where respect, dignity, and freedom means more than the ability to argue, fight amongst ourselves, and at the detriment of a world that needs a shining light now as much as ever before. Can we ask the hard questions, ponder the hard decisions, and do so in a way worthy of their sacrifice? I hope we can. I am reminded of a song by the German group the Scorpions. There was a hope we could come together globally. Perhaps . . .
Thanks as always for reading.
One thought on “Questioning, Pondering, Disagreeing, and Respecting”
It sounds like you had a thought-provoking experience with a former student who openly disagreed with a post you shared. It is nice to hear that you respected her opinion and admired her courage to express her disagreement with you. In today’s world, it is becoming more and more rare for people to hear each other out and try to understand the point they are making. I liked how you pointed out that arguing is not about winning but about coming to a consensus. Most people today do not understand that, and people become easily offended by disagreement. In my opinion, it is 10x more beneficial to hear other people out before you come to a conclusion about their way of thinking. I once heard a quote that said, “you were given two ears and only one mouth for a reason” and I think this is a very impactful quote. I don’t usually remember a quote verbatim, but this one always stuck with me. If politicians and world leaders could become better at this skill, it would be a lot easier to create beneficial laws that adhere to the needs of both parties. It is interesting that you started to think about the president when you brought up this topic. Sometimes, it can be very hard to respect someone you are supposed to when you don’t see eye to eye with them. The idea of a democracy is very interesting to me because it is supposed to be representative of “the people”, but it very rarely is. The president has the final say about a plethora of issues, and the people really don’t know anything that goes on in the White House. The popular vote seems to mean anything in major elections, so I often find myself wondering whether we actually live in a democracy.