Imagine what a society might be if the people who made up that society could enter into constructive conversations rather than the destructive debates that happen most often?
This is certainly not a new idea. Many of us have asked this very question as we have encountered instances of people attacking one another to establish their viewpoint as the "right" viewpoint. We have asked this question as we have witnessed physical altercations erupt out of arguments over divisive issues.
As people with particular values and beliefs, backgrounds and experiences, difference is inevitable; however, this need not be a basis for disharmony. Rather, when we encounter someone who is different than us, it can be an opportunity to expand our thinking beyond what we hold as "truth" and to seek insight into the truths of others. Much of the bickering and threatening language that arises from destructive debates on issues of difference is rooted in our biases and unwillingness to listen.
The goal of a society that would seek to enter into constructive discussions would not be to reach mutual agreement. Agreement is not a requirement to achieve a harmonious society or environment. Respect is. The goal, then, would be to have the people of that society learn how to listen to one another for the purpose of gaining insight into the multiplicity and uniqueness of others. This goal is important because ultimately we are not changed by experiencing likeness. Experiencing likeness only confirms our current way of being and thinking. On the other hand, where we encounter difference and where respect and genuine curiosity guides this encounter, what can emerge is an experience in which we are expanded-changed.
Why are we afraid of such change? My thought is that perhaps people erroneously believe that to be expanded or to change in the way as described above means that they somehow have to stop being who they are. Our sets of experiences, our backgrounds, our values, and beliefs all come together to make us who we are and shapes how we see the world around us. We can never not be who we are, but we are expanded as individuals when "who we are" does not hinder our ability to have thoughtful and respectful discussions with others whose personal experiences, backgrounds, values, and beliefs differ. We are expanded as individuals when we can open our minds to the realities of others that have shaped their perspectives or viewpoints. This kind of expansion of thought creates room, in a firmly divided community or society, for multiplicity of ideas and ways of being.
Whenever we encounter difference and choose to operate in a spirit of respect and openness, we allow also for reflection of our own positions and points of view. When we share about who we are, how we see the world based on our personal experiences, suddenly we cease being merely on this side or that one, for this or against that, but we become human in that we can see the multicolored aspects of our experiences -- not just black and white.
I imagine a rainbow society.
Contact columnist LaTonya Dunn at firstname.lastname@example.org.