Saturday, July 14, 2012

Staring across the divide

For some reason I've been thinking a lot lately about the challenge of reaching across the divide.  "Which divide?" you ask.  I'm not sure -- any divide.  I like to think this deer and I had a moment of cross-species communion across this fence; that she was willing to let me take her picture.

But really I'm thinking more about the growing divide in our country between Democrat and Republican, between liberal and conservative.  And (of course) the numerous divides in our little community, many of which seem irrational to me.  I just wanna whine, with Rodney King, "Why can't we all get along?"

So I was intrigued by the article my husband brought home last night from the Wall Street Journal, about Jonathan Haidt's book,  The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.  The article is definitely worth a read, so I suspect the book may be, as well.  According to the article, his theme is this: "The same moral psychology that makes our politics so nasty also underlies the amazing triumph of the human species. "We shouldn't be here at all," he tells me. "When I think about life on earth, there should not be a species like us. And if there was, we should be out in the jungle killing each other in small groups. That's what you should expect. The fact that we're here [in politics] arguing viciously and nastily with each other, and no guns, that itself is a miracle. And I think we can make [our politics] a little better. That's my favorite theme."

But what I found most interesting was that the views propounded by Haidt, a self-declared liberal and a professor of moral pscychology, formerly at UVa and now at NYU, are being most roundly applauded by conservatives.  And, I confess, some of the things he says on behalf of conservative thinkers really appealed to me.**

Is this because I'm getting older and becoming more conservative?  I don't think so.  I think it's because I'm embarrassed by the extremes to which liberals sometimes carry their causes, and by the many ways they seem to keep (as my mom used to say) "cutting off their noses to spite their faces."  I know I've said this before, but one of the reasons I continue to consider myself an Episcopalian is because I am so passionate a devotee of the via media, the middle way; something this denomination consistently espouses.

Yes, I know: conservatives have the same sorts of failings -- but since they're not "my people" I don't have to be embarrassed by them.  Right?

Actually, no.  I am always embarrassed by the foolish things we humans do when we're absolutely convinced we are RIGHT, or that we KNOW the mind of God.  And at times like that,  I can't help wondering if the real wisdom on this earth resides just as surely, right here, in the wise eyes and ears, the direct gaze of this deer.
**Two "conservative" quotes that struck me from the article:

"In Brazil, he paid attention to the experiences of street children and discovered the "most dangerous person in the world is mom's boyfriend. When women have a succession of men coming through, their daughters will get raped," he says. "The right is right to be sounding the alarm about the decline of marriage, and the left is wrong to say, 'Oh, any kind of family is OK.' It's not OK."

So here's my middle way take on that.  What I would mean by "any kind of family is OK" is that I believe it is possible to achieve stability, growth, healthy children, a contribution to society in the context of gay and lesbian relationships, mixed marriages, heterosexual marriages, single parent families, grandparent families and more.  I think that what is NOT healthy is the lack of commitment to marriage and family, the constant shifting of partners, the unwillingness to work through the hard stuff, the constant chasing after self-fulfillment at the expense of children (and ultimately, community.)

 "Education policies that let students sue teachers erode classroom authority."

This one is particularly disturbing to me, as I've been told the second largest budgetary expense for the schools on our island, after salaries, is legal fees.  Presumably for parents suing teachers for not giving their children better grades.  I know.  That last line was an assumption.  But I know it goes on, just as I know there are bad teachers in every school.  But shouldn't there be a middle way?  One of the things I loved about raising our daughters on Shaw, where the largest the school ever got was 20 children, was that teaching was a cooperative effort between the teachers, the parents, and the community.  Perhaps that's just not possible in a larger community, or maybe the cooperative stance is weakened the pressure to get good grades so you can get substantial scholarships to fabulous colleges so you have the chance of actually making a decent life for yourself when you graduate.   Money, as always, can be a powerful motivator to set aside ethical standards and behavior.

We moved several times when our children were growing up, always in search of a school that would challenge our children, inspire them to learn, and help them to grow.  I would always rather see the girls get mediocre grades from an excellent teacher than excellent grades from a mediocre teacher.  But that's just me: my mother was a teacher, so I grew up understanding that good teaching is hard, and it matters.

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