Beginning 2019

In my first post of 2018, I espoused the desire that we might all dedicate our new year to restoring hope from the ashes of despair.  I think we failed. Instead, we (those who hold similar political and moral positions to mine) raged against what we perceived as injustice and inhumanity, without even trying to understand what stoked the fire. I hope 2019 will  include contemplative reflection: why do people who perceive the world differently than I see it the way they do? And what do I not understand about them and their experiences that might help explain their disdain for my world view?

An example is my pride in my liberal or progressive philosophies, which guide my beliefs about what government should and should not do, versus others’ pride in their conservative philosophies that provide the same sort of guidance, but in the opposite direction. How can I understand these differences without judging those whose philosophies differ from mine?

Some of the differences between political and moral philosophies stem from the relative importance people tend to assign to the values they hold. I think “liberals” tend to assign greater importance to “compassion” than to “justice,” whereas “conservatives” reverse that order. I’ve long held the opinion that fierce convictions that occupy opposite poles on the political continuum tend to be born of intolerance and narrow-mindedness. Yet, even holding that opinion, I allow myself to gravitate toward one end and to adopt positions on the basis of where they are on that continuum, rather than on the basis of careful assessment. The intransigence in Washington is, in my opinion, a direct outgrowth of the same phenomenon, coupled with an absolute refusal to compromise.  The key to solving the problem is, at the moment, beyond me. Unless people are willing to examine their own biases and admit to their prejudices, they are stuck in inflexibility.

The first step in solving a problem is recognizing there is one. When the problem is with one’s own obstinacy, admitting it involves overcoming denial. And so, as 2019 begins to unfold, I see one of my missions as mirroring this quotation: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I’ll try to model the behavior I hope to see in others.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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