Political gridlock. Culture wars. Deeply ingrained differences that divide people on everything from education and the environment to marriage and reproductive rights. It’s fine and good to believe strongly in your own perspective. This produces meaningfully diverse physical and mental landscapes.
But it’s not so good when it prevents you from even attempting to understand the other’s perspective.
People usually have good reasons for believing the things they do even if those reason are not as compelling to everyone else. Mutual respect is a minimum prerequisite to progress. Beliefs and belief systems are built over lifetimes. Trying to challenge them with a television news sound bite or a Facebook post is a fool’s errand.
Yet we have reached a point where it is unacceptable to tune out the moment we hear something that differs from our own perspective. Humanity’s power to affect society and the environment through science, technology and globalization has become so formidable that simply hoping unfettered free market capitalism will bring us to a future we will like is too risky a proposition.
That doesn’t mean we have to swing to the opposite extreme.
Reaching too far to the left is not only impractical, it is also unrealistic. The power wealth has to influence the state will not yield to cries of altruistic concern, however urgent or profound. Any solutions to environmental and social issues must not threaten to displace those in power if they are to have any real chance at earnest implementation.
There is a middle path to be found if only we can be bothered to look for it. Opposite of the Biblical solution employed to confound man’s progress at the Tower of Babble, what we need now is a greater ability to speak to each other with compassion and empathy. We cannot find common ground if it’s too hot for any of us to stand on. The war mindset must be used less. Prevention is more desirable than cure. This starts with understanding the other’s perspective. Whether it’s dealing with drug addiction, crime or other social and environmental justice issues, without understanding, we are left fighting battles in the dark, swinging wildly with brute force. We should try turning on the lights and finding the root causes of these threats to our well-being and standard of living.
We know what failure looks like. Instead of leaning so heavily on our respective ideologies, let’s work on coming together to find solutions that produce results. Few people want to live in a world replete with corrupt governments, violent crime, environmental decay, social imbalance or any other form of human pathos. Yet we know law and governmental policy alone cannot provide all the answers.
People will find a way to do what they want.
Culture is more powerful than law. High powered assault riffles may or may not have a legitimate use in individual self-defense. In a more compassionate society even the most powerful weapon is rendered impotent. Using the same technological tools and infrastructure that drive the global economy, we can transform our culture into one where more people choose empowerment over oppression, virtue over vice and self-destruction. To accomplish this we will have to listen to each other more thoughtfully. We will need to share our perspectives, our legends, our histories and myths as vigorously as we share our pop culture memes and brand identities.
It’s a basic human need to feel valued and have your perspective validated. Sometimes just allowing people to express their sense of injustice is enough to inspire change within and without. People reared with specific religious values will defend them without considering how injurious the real world implications are of creating policies at the state level based on those values. In place of confronting their misguided zeal with disdain-which will only inspire indignation-why not accept their sincere motivation to do good and help them see more ethical and compassionate methods to achieve their (reasonable) ideals than forcing their perspectives on others through the law?
Moreover, accepting all perspectives as sincere, whether they are voiced from the business developer or the modern tree-huger, will go a long way toward building a global society in which individuals and cultures will not only be sustained, but thrive.
HEKTOR D. ESPARZA is a pragmatic idealist and founder of the youth mentoring nonprofit Push Forward.