“Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views.” – William F. Buckley, Jr.
“A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned to walk forward.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt
One of the best things that happened to me in my early days of high school was hooking up with a group of boys and girls who just enjoyed one another’s company and conversation. I suppose there were 10-12 of us and pretty evenly split between male and female. It wasn’t a dating thing. We just appreciated the camaraderie. From our homes we would sometimes converge by bicycles on the urban parkway that formed a semi-circle around the city. We knew where to look for each of our compadres so that we wouldn’t miss anyone and then we would head for a spot to eat our bagged lunches and shoot the breeze.
Of that group of young people, I was the least intelligent. The rest were close to brilliant if not genius. I suppose, if you were to categorize me, you could call me bright. But what I loved the most about those gatherings, whether we were bicycling around town or at someone’s home for an evening of food and games, were the conversations.
My role, I think, was to inject a little humor here and there. But I can remember the thoughtful and deep discussions about the world as we knew it in its current state of affairs, its history, and what everyone conjectured about the future. Those talks often turned to lively debate about politics and religion. Voices were often raised as principles were defended. And, though I don’t recall it, I suspect there were some feelings of frustration with one another at times. But whatever frustration or even anger that may have erupted or internalized was put aside or forgotten because our friendships were more important than our differences.
After “the group” was at my house one evening and had a particularly rousing discussion in our living room, I remember my mom and dad talking about it at the breakfast table the next morning (and my dad never seemed to notice much of anything I did with my friends). But both of them expressed their admiration for the discourse upon which they had eavesdropped from upstairs. They were impressed that ones so young could have such a depth of understanding on such a broad range of topics. They even admitted that they as adults didn’t have a handle on several of those subjects.
I remember a story about General and Republican President Dwight Eisenhower (as told by his grandson David) and Democrat statesman and New York Governor Averill Harriman. The two met before either of them was elected to office and they were on a long plane ride back to the U.S. from Europe. The talk was of WWII as you might imagine. And while their ideologies came from completely different spheres, those didn’t stand in the way of them becoming good friends. They remained good friends until several years and elections later when they had a falling out over hearsay, that is gossip, that was attributed to one or the other of the men. They didn’t come face-to-face to talk out those differences except in one explosive argument in front of many others at a dinner party. After that, they just avoided each other.
Fifteen years or so later and after their political terms had been served, the two men found themselves on another airplane, this time heading back to Europe for Winston Churchill’s funeral. Encouraged by a staffer or two, the men sat down together and in those hours before them, they made amends and together they wondered how it was they had let such a consummate friendship fall apart over simple differences of opinion.
Isn’t it interesting that as we grow from child to adult and continue to grow through adulthood that we discover what we thought was truth at one time (and even might have been truth at that time and place) changes? Truth changes for us as we grow and as we mature. We see truth from different perspectives. What is truth for you may hold a whole different truth for me. My perspective on truth is often quite different from my colleagues. But as we continue to grow and mature in our lives together (no matter how many miles separate us), we can also learn from one another about what truth is or might become. It doesn’t always come easy. To grow in the truth and toward the truth and the recognition and acceptance of God’s grace in that process is costly. It takes a lot of effort and sometimes it hurts to grow. It means giving up the old truths, giving up self-centered lives and embracing new ones. It means honoring and respecting one another; being civil. And all of us must always be conscious that we are serving as models for others about what truth is and what living for others is all about.
I wouldn’t have known that my parents were eavesdropping on my friends’ conversations had they not been so impressed by what they heard that they could not help but say something about it.
That’s what our conversations should be like today whether they are in our living rooms, our statehouses, our U.S. Capitol, and on Facebook. There is plenty of room for disagreement, but there is no room for incivility. Together we can grow toward the truth, and the truth is that we are created to care for one another even in the midst of spirited debate.
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