Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Harmony of Mind and Heart: Linking Empathy and the Political Intellect

Life's various crosscurrents have taken me away from blogging since 2004, when I decided to step away from the necessarily consuming realm of daily political commentary. It's probably just as well.

While a fundamental attachment to a progressive sensibility still exists, the way in which I've carried my views has certainly changed. In 2003, I wrote a book about the need for liberal principles to be articulated in ways that Christian conservatives could not only understand, but embrace; however, my mind had not yet caught up with the heartfelt desire to forge some small measure of unity among Americans of different political persuasions. I would write of the need for reconciliation, but my instinctive reactions to an array of political controversies would still reflect a certain hostility toward "them," otherwise known as political opponents.

Republicans. Conservatives. Them. Really Christian and generous, eh?

That's how I held my beliefs through my twentysomething years. I don't look back on that period with any sense of admiration or satisfaction. Deep shame? No - not that, either. I view my twenties as a period I had to outgrow. It was necessary to shed the rough edges and uncharitable elements of my outlook; not the contents of my policy positions, mind you, but certainly the extent to which I held disagreements against political opponents and suspected their motives as well. Love and respect for other people needed to become a part of my political way of being, even as I maintained disagreements with various individuals, usually on the Internet.

My blogging period - from April of 2003 through June of 2004 - was characterized by a competing pair of gravitational forces. When responding to a libertarian, I would think of the kindest possible way to say "you're wrong," while feeling in my churning insides the turmoil of a person who was extremely agitated. The fusion between mind and heart, between intellect and emotions, that represents a well-grounded human person did not exist for me. I could create a phrasing that minimized tension - and there is a certain virtue in being diplomatic with one's public words! - but I fell far short of cultivating true peace in my heart.

Why did this lack of internal harmony exist? Well, for one thing, I still regarded political "food fight" shows such as the McLaughlin Group as fun. I wasn't raised by my mom to dislike Republicans, but her ire at opposing views wound up conveying that message. Political combat wasn't preached, but the absence of a fundamentally cautionary posture - with wise counsel from elders - essentially brought me to the same militant place.

Multiply this by millions of other Americans on both sides of the aisle, and you get what we have today. The 11 months I've spent on Twitter - wonderful though it is - have exposed me to new rosters of bloggers and commentators who each have something to say. Some of these voices originate from media outlets, others inside the homes of simple citizens. Many of them are locked in the frame of political combat. (Not all of them; in fact, the people who read this essay are the ones who possess a sincere desire to survey the entirety of the landscape rather than just certain regions of it.)

On the Left and on the Right, look at how many media watchdog groups and content monitors there are. Observe how many politically flavored tweets acquire the basic framework which says something to the effect of, "If this other group did this other thing, the media would be all over it. But with our group? Silence."

Or vice versa. You get the point.

I, for one, want to see something better, now that I've been able to grow - at least on certain levels (being human, I'm never a finished product or a person who has it all figured out) - past easy political polarities. I can't demand or insist that others grow past their views. What I can do is offer a conversation and a safe space in which to facilitate it.

During the spring and summer months - as I take at least a partial break from my college sportswriting responsibilities - it's time for me to breathe in the air of politics and the well-directed society here in America. However, I intend to talk about politics with others in a way that's different from the past, and different - I hasten to add - from what we see on television today.

I won't seek to convert people with a different political worldview.

I won't seek to win agreement among those with a markedly different ideological leaning.

What I will try to do is enable people to gain an appreciation of life's complexity, at least to the extent that our different journeys necessitate a more compassionate view of political opponents. By engaging in this process, we Americans can become more empathic toward the specific positions political opponents acquire in their divergent lives.

Here's to an evolving conversation which will hopefully bear some fruit. This conversation shouldn't evolve too quickly or be colored by an inclination to fill in various blanks. Let it breathe on its own terms and unfold in due time.

In the next blog post, I'll begin to talk a little more about the differences in our respective human journeys.


  1. I look forward to your future posts. As one of the dreaded libertarians of which you speak, I feel much the same as you do, but from an opposite ideological framework. I enjoy your thoughts, though, because you are one of the few progressives I engage with that do not come across as full of anger, rancor - or even hatred. Thanks for your thoughtful post, and please update your followers on Twitter with future installments.

  2. "What I can do is offer a conversation and a safe space in which to facilitate it."

    I'll be listening along. :) I certainly need to!

  3. I've said it before and I'll keep saying it because it is true - you are a wonderful breath of fresh air and I look forward to your future posts and great conversations