BY A. LAWRENCE CHICKERING AND JAMES S. TURNER
From What If Our Political Opposite Isn’t (Actually) The Devil… What Then?
Friends and acquaintances used to be mystified at my interest in liberal-conservative dialogue. Not anymore. America is having a rude awakening about the value of dialogue and deliberation in a world torn by bitter conflict.
At the center of the harshest rhetoric (from both sides) is one essential claim: Those Other People (on the other side) are dangerous. They cannot be trusted and do not have America’s best interest at heart (and if they say they do, they’re basically lying).
They are Demons Incarnate…and must be treated as such.
What if closer examination revealed that people holding different views are equally good-hearted and care the same about ensuring America’s well-being but have different ideas about what that requires?
Thousands of years ago, one of the world’s earliest scientists invited people to sit in silence and turn towards (rather than away from) inner contradictions in body, mind and heart. As people tried this radical act, they were surprised to find the gnawing tension inside them change. And insight arose—with suffering decreasing too.
In recent years, the dialogue and deliberation community has been inviting people towards a similar experiment: instead of avoiding painful questions, to begin sitting with our political opposites and turning towards the contradictions between us — listening and getting curious…
Last year, we tried an experiment. We offered free consultation to anyone willing to try a Living Room Conversation (with anyone they wanted, on any topic). Then, I went knocking on doors inviting people in my own neighborhood, but I was turned down right and left.
Liz Joyner, national director of the Village Square, explained: ‘Jacob, there is something we like about polarization; something almost reassuring about knowing that Our Side is superior to Those Demons.’
Chronic resentment hurts. That same scientist (the Buddha) warned that anger functions like a poison in the body and mind.
If he was right, America is now suffering from a poisoning epidemic on a vast scale. Turning toward our contradictions, in a safe and comfortable livingroom environment, might begin to drain the poison.