I have to do something. How can I help? What can I offer? What difference does cross-cultural understanding make? or, why do I do what I do? Let me explain:
Ken Wilbur, in his 2002 book, Boomeritis, wrote, “It's
not that I have to agree with everything you say but I should attempt to at least understand it, for the opposite of mutual
understanding is, quite simply, war.”
Let me begin with saying I fear I’m being naive or simplistic with that quote; the geo-political morass that has produced the current Hamas / Israel tragedy cannot and should not be simplified and minimized. What is troubling me deeply, however, is the current social, cultural, political environment of division and, dare I say it, hate. We react to “the news” with actions and demonstrations, reactions and protests. News bites on social media are minimizing the complex, reducing decades even centuries of complicated histories to memes. They, too, produce anti-this and pro-that demonstrations that not only simplify the issues but, worse, demonize people who hold a different view.
My home office is in a corner of our basement; the best place for an introvert. In the quiet, in the solitude I wonder what I should be thinking and feeling, how I should be responding and reacting to what is going on around me. Think of the issues that are dividing us. Here in the quiet, I find myself lamenting what is, but then asking myself what can I do. My mind goes back…
Maybe, just maybe, what I studied in grad school might be relevant after all. I chose an elective course called “The Philosophy of Education.” The syllabus described the course to be an examination of philosophers like Plato and Aristotle then apply the examination to the development of personal (and vocational) character. At the end of the course, I appreciated these dead guys. What if they were right all along?
“Let’s talk,” is the core of the Socratic method of learning. Not idle (idol?) talk – like talking about last night’s Survivor episode – but communal conversation. We sit together, share coffee (or, if after 5, a merlot) and our thoughts. I invite you into my world and ask you to help me understand yours. Then – after a measure of mutual understanding – we start to question and, in a spirit of trust, challenge.
For conversation – or dialogue, to use the Platonic expression – to become community there must be recognition of shared humanity, and, can I say it? humility. I genuinely want to share my thoughts with her, and to hear and understand her thoughts. She knows something I do not.
Remember the old guys? Socrates both challenged and accepted challenge. I am not always right. Let’s learn from each other. He also said something like “Know yourself.” I must be comfortable with myself such that I do not need to protect my beliefs from scrutiny. If I must hold onto my beliefs at all costs, I reduce the world to right or wrong, friend or enemy, life or death.
Virtue is a word we don’t hear too much anymore; too bad. Aristotle suggested that virtue is the balance between excess and deficiency. He suggested that every virtue, when pushed, becomes excess, but when ignored becomes deficit. For example, courage is the mean between rash behaviour and cowardice. We live in the world with its confusing mixture of delight and degradation, of sunsets and slavery. How do we navigate this world with virtue?
That’s why I do what I do; let’s understand each other and our – both at once – shared and diverse culture.