I tore up my first draft of my letter to you. You already know too many here blurt and holler “stupid libtard,” “racist idiot,” “leftist whiner,” “sexist bully.” Too many blame all over the blogs and grumble resentments on their way to and from their jobs or when they see a stranger from an “enemy” group. Civility, yes, we need more civility in our public discourse.
But civility emerges from empathy, and empathy is linked to patience, patience before the awesome, complex, barely visible glimmers of what we call “truth.” And we must converse and pray and explore and think and doubt and wonder to see even these glimmers. But this great adventure we call our democracy cannot survive without such empathy and such glimmers of truth. The person and his supporters who claim to represent “truth” are potential tyrants. Tyrants harass, threaten, beat, and murder their enemies. Leaders listen. Leaders consider. Leaders learn.
So, in the spirit of learners, let us cultivate empathy. I pray the person who might normally blurt “stupid ecofreak wacko” will study global warming and climate change, might recognize the value of public transportation, recycling and composting, growing food in one’s garden and then eating it. I pray the person who might normally blurt “racist idiot” might recognize a person they hate might have been bullied, robbed, and raped by a member of a minority group and has been traumatized by the experience. It is easy to call a person a “racist.” It is not easy to understand another’s rage or to recognize the potential for similar feelings in oneself.
So often, though, political name-calling and blaming are intense and concurrent with ruptures in friendships and marriages and careers—and after such ruptures many people retreat to enclaves of the like-minded. “Those right-wing jerks don’t get it. Stay here. We’ll fight them together.” “Those leftist idiots just whine and mock. Stay here. We’ll fight them together.” And, so, accusation replaces conversation, and empathy extends only so far as ideological agreement does.
All who live in you, America, are Americans, and virtually everyone on the planet shares at least some of our love of constitutionally protected civil liberties, freewheeling media exchanges, and the aspiration to have one’s voice heard and respected. Let us, then, extend empathy past mere ideological agreement, and become lifelong learners in the process—not dedicated to protecting political purity in an enclave but to cultivating fearless questioning and joyful wonderment in the complex, beautiful, and terrifying universe.
Dear America, you might represent only one speck of land in a vast universe, but that speck has often shined with a glory extending far beyond your borders—and you can still shine that way. Let each of us who live here keep the light of learning and questioning alive in our daily lives. Truth is not synonymous with “ideology.” Far closer to the mark are “complexity” and “honesty.” And fearless questioning. And love, even for those who disagree with us.
David D. Horowitz
Publisher, Rose Alley Press
Read poetry by David D. Horowitz previously appearing in Terrain.org.
Header image of USA by Pete Linforth, courtesy Pixabay. Photo of David D. Horowitz by Jan Nicosia.