(This is the third in a series about civil discourse, respectful dialogue across difference, and nonviolence. Read Marie’s first post here and second post here. And join in the conversation by posting comments on the website below this post and future ones, as well as participating in the dialogue on our Facebook page and Twitter.)
One of the great blessings of my life is family – six strong minded, politically astute and opinionated children and their six spouses who are also strong minded, politically astute and opinionated. All children and children-in-law are truly good human beings who care deeply about social justice and are contributing in amazing and very different ways to a better future for the whole “earth community.”
Despite their common roots; what I thought was a pretty similar “up-bringing;” and my serious attempt at brain-washing, my six do not always agree with each other or with me when it comes to important issues. When you add the beautiful diversity of their life partners we can have some great debates about “hot button” issues, especially politics!
Even when we disagree, I love every minute of those conversations and always learn something new. Often, my own opinions on specific issues are affected by these family encounters and I think the reverse is also true. Last night for example, I had a great, too-brief conversation with my son-in-law about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s response to the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three embassy aides. We agreed on the importance of free speech and the need to reject violence, but the nuances of his reasoning about these events were very different and helpful to my own thinking about the insulting video and the violence it has sparked in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Sudan and elsewhere in the Middle East.
I have often wondered why we are all so open to each other’s perspective – why we can disagree and still really love each other. I think the answer is respect.
I completely respect these good human beings who are such an important part of my life and they respect me. I have a sense of their life journeys, of what is important to them and I believe deeply that they are people of integrity. When we disagree about anything – but especially about politics, I want to understand their perspective because I know it is honestly held.
Because the life experiences, especially of my children-in-law, are different from my own, I always feel that I can learn something from them when we talk. In fact, the same is true of my own children, especially as their circles of life have expanded. And without exception, each of them wants to know what I think specifically because they know that my life is planted in what is a thoughtful and experienced community, Assisi Community, and that my work for peace puts me in touch with very different realities around the world.
If we could engender in our body politic more respect for each other as human beings whose opinions are shaped by the experience of life and if we had confidence that we as a body politic share some basic values – especially a commitment to the common good and respect for the dignity of each person and Earth, perhaps we could disagree without so much rancor. If that basic respect and confidence are absent, I am not sure how civil discourse is possible.
Marie Dennis is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace and the Co-President of Pax Christi International.