It’s not My Way or the Highway

The surest way to shut down a conversation, or to prevent one from beginning, is to believe that “I have the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” and everything that the person on the other side of the aisle or table believes about the topic of conversation is “false.”

This lack of acknowledgement of human fallibility and finitude, and absence of the slightest hint of humility, leads to either/or positions: “We either do it my way, or you can hit the highway.”

This either/or posturing runs rampant in current political discourse. Consider, for example, three political issues that will dominate political discussion during the next few months: the Federal Budget Deficit; Immigration Reform; and Gun Control.

Some will argue that the only way to address the enormous federal budget deficit is through cuts in expenditures. Others will argue that the only solution is increasing revenue. It’s nor either/or. It has to be both/and. There is little hope for solving the Federal Budget Deficit problem unless a balance is struck between the need for cuts in expenditures and the need for increased revenues.

Some will argue that the only way to address our problems with undocumented immigrants is to improve border protection and to punish those who have broken the law by entering our country illegally. Others will argue that the USA needs to provide a viable pathway to citizenship for those undocumented workers who are making an enormous contribution to our economy and our country and whose families are being decimated by current immigration laws. Its not either/or. It has to be both/and. Those who have broken the law should be punished in some appropriate way (but far short of deportation). But they also need to be given the opportunity to gain citizenship and flourish in our country.

In the current debate on gun control, some argue that we must address the “culture of violence” in our country and the lack of adequate mental health care for those having the potential to commit acts of violence due to mental illness. Others argue that Congress must legislate some common sense gun control measures. It’s not either/or. It must be both/and. We cannot address this multi-faceted problem with violence unless we take a both/and approach that seeks a proper “balance” between various strategies.

To be sure, seeking a both/and solution to a complex is no easy task. It is much easier to argue for either/or solutions that lend themselves to 60 second sound bytes or bumper stickers. Those committed to finding the “best balance” between competing views will often disagree strongly about what the “best balance” is. Much further conversation will be needed regarding any given issue. That is why venues for “respectful conversation” among those who disagree with one another are indispensable for future political discourse.

This suggests to me a greater need for what some pundits have called “governing from the middle,” not being beholden to the extremists in either major party who have no interest in seeking common ground. Of course, this is much easier said than done since enormous amounts of money are expended on promoting the election of extremists and thwarting the political aspirations of those who wish to engage in “principled compromise” with members of the other party toward “balanced” solutions to our most pressing societal problems.

The overarching lesson for all of us, in the political realm and everywhere else, is that since no human being has a corner on all of the truth about any given issue, we need to listen and talk to one another so that we can learn from each other’s best insights to identify the common ground needed to live well together.

As a Christian, I believe that my providing a “welcoming place” for someone who disagrees with me to express and talk about those disagreements is a deep expression of what it means for me to “love that person,” to which Jesus calls me.