E Pluribus Unum

I believe in moral absolutes, and was taught right from wrong.  And I did well in school, so I have experience processing disparate information and arriving at a right answer.

But there were three other formative experiences in my life that have helped me to understand the existence of multiple perspectives on the same issue.  First, I did team debate in high school, where we learned to build a case on the affirmative and negative sides of the same issue.  Second, many of the classes I took in college debunked the somewhat sanitized version of history that you invariably learn in high school.  Third, I went to a public policy grad school that prided itself on the notion that "where you stand depends on where you sit."

I was reminded of this when a friend of mine talked about how she and her husband talk through the news with their adolescent boys during every dinner hour.  They want their kids to not only know the news but that that news comes from a particular perspective that is based on a certain agenda (left, right) or motivation (attract eyeballs, sell ads).  Her boys are fast learning how to be critical thinkers in a world swimming in information but starved for true insight.

All of this may sound obvious, and yet for many of us who are book smart and did well in school, how easily we can think that there is a "right answer" to life's complex issues.  Even worse, as I wrote earlier this month, the "log in our eyes" can keep us from seeing other viewpoints to the point that we create a hostile environment for those who dare think differently from us because they are coming to the same issue from a different perspective.

My friend is onto something with her dinner table approach to news consumption.  News does not come from on high, dropped into our minds with absolute purity of perspective and motivation.  When we hear something that outrages us, we should take a step back and seek to understand where it is coming from; we may end up feeling even more outraged, or less, but either way we will be better for not just dismissing it.  And when we hear something that confirms our biases, we should take a step back and make sure it makes sense and isn't just entering into our heads without any critical filter.

Our nation's motto - "E plruibus unum" - means "out of many, one."  We will see differently; indeed, it is what our country so wonderful and so unprecedented.  But we must also be one.  Unity must therefore come not from convincing let alone haranguing those who disagree with us, but from finding common ground even as we feel strongly about what we don't have in common.

We may believe we are absolutely right on an issue, and we may very well be.  We should never stop feeling strongly about things, nor about raising our voice to get others who are on the other side to change.  But we must understand that there are many sources of information and perspective that lead people to differing conclusions, and somehow in all of that many-ness we must find a one-ness.  I can't say I know exactly what that means, but it is something I hope we can move towards rather than away from.

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