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Seek the Truth

Seek the truth, speak the truth, and be open to hearing the truth. This is an essential pillar of democracy—and of relationships in general.

In the parable of the blind men and the elephant, each man is touching a different part of the elephant, and each tries to extrapolate from what he experiences to explain the full truth of what is before them. The man touching the tusk says the elephant is like a spear; the one holding the tail says it’s like a rope; and the one touching the side affirms that it is like a wall. All of them insist that their point of view must drive the conclusion, but each reality is only a piece of a larger truth.

A commitment to the truth requires us to consider what we do not know, and to continually seek new information to gain an understanding of the whole. It is impossible to know the truth without engaging with a range of views in a meaningful, sustainable manner.

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Cultivate the Space Between Us

How we engage with others influences the degree to which we expand our understanding of the many facets that make up the whole truth. It doesn’t matter how far apart our views are from each other, and it is immaterial whether we engage in debate, discussion, or dialogue. What matters is the quality of the space we cultivate between us.

My best political conversations have been with people whose views are far apart from mine, but we engage in discussion in a way that makes space for the dignity of opposing views. We may express our strongly held opinions with passion and conviction, and challenge and debate each other, but we do not convey contempt (subtly or overtly) for other perspectives.

Conversely, some of my worst political conversations have been with people whose views are closer to mine in theory, but the discussion deteriorates when one or both of us speak about entire groups of people derisively (e.g., Republicans; Democrats; alt-right; socialist left; etc.). The underlying scorn weakens the interaction, even if it is directed at people outside the conversation.

In other words, disdain kills the discussion, not the gap in views.

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Resist the Siren Call of Silos

Engaging with other viewpoints takes effort, and sometimes it falls flat. Resist the urge to return to silos and echo chambers. Yes, being with our own tribe is more comfortable, but there is only one way to expand our understanding of the world in which we live: engage with different viewpoints. Read broadly. Find writers you like from a wide variety of publications, and not just newspapers; novels work, too. Talk with a range of people about views, experiences, hopes, and fears—yours and theirs. Have the courage to step outside of your comfort zone, over and over.

There is so much to talk about without even once touching on Trump or the left/right divide. Yes, both Trump and our divide dominate the news cycle, and people are either very happy or very unhappy about what they hear, but we are all more complex and nuanced than the binary divide.

Voting is binary; we are not. There is so much we can build upon.

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Copyright © 2018 Sharon V. Kristjanson. All rights reserved.

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