Uncommon Common Sense – December 2016

Uncommon Common Sense

By Bill Frayer

When We Are Right


Bill Frayer 2010Finally, finally the interminable election season in the United States has ended. It was worse than usual. Thank goodness it is over, at least for the time being. I am particularly concerned with the lack of comity on both sides.  The election may have been settled, but the quality of the dialogue is not likely to improve. Readers of this column are likely familiar with my tendency to focus on the lack of real fair-minded discussion between parties who disagree.  I ran across an excellent poem by the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai which may offer us some guidance:

The Place Where We Are Right

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.

The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.

But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.

This lovely poem is about our orientation when we discuss difficult subjects. Our opinions are formulated, we presume, after serious deliberation and consideration of the evidence. When we speak to others about subjects we care deeply about, we speak from the space Amichai describes in the poem. We are standing firmly in the “space where we are right.”  But, as he points out, “Flowers will never grow” in this place because it “is hard and trampled like a yard.” 

This is a metaphorical description of the landscape we find ourselves in. Amichai, I imagine, was referring to the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, but his poem really applied to us all. The more entrenched we are, in this self-righteous territory of being “right,” the less likely we are to reach out to understand those who we think are “not right.” We cannot achieve progress, or even productive dialogue, if we are both entrenched in the hard-packed soil of our immutable positions.

Of course we have different views, but if we share our “doubts and loves,” those passions and beliefs which animate our souls, maybe we can find some common ground. If we can allow ourselves to show our vulnerability by plowing up our common soil, allowing air and moisture into our hard-packed terrain, perhaps we can make some progress.  

We all want the same things, don’t we? People of all colors, traditions, and political persuasions usually want prosperity, security for their families, active and engaged community life, strong artistic and entertainment options, good education for their children, and the promise of a good future. Our disagreements are usually about methods, not goals.

There are many things on which we can easily agree if we leave our egos at the door and focus on our common loves and doubts. These loves and doubts are what make us human. We are all vulnerable and imperfect. We need to start to hear each other’s whispers, and we can’t do that while we’re shouting. And, in the meantime, we could all do ourselves a favor by reading some good poetry rather than watching television!

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Ojo Del Lago
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