It has only been in the last ten years or so that “Both/And” has been in my vocabulary. I’m a bit ashamed to admit that and yet it goes to show that “you can teach an old dog new tricks!” There’s hope for all of us. These expressions came to mind on Sunday as I was getting ready for church. I’m always glad to have “On Being” with Krista Tippet available to listen to as I go about my Sunday morning routines. This week’s episode featured Jonathan Haidt, professor of Ethical Leadership at NYU’s Stern School of Business. Here’s what the On Being website says about his presentation:
“When it comes to moral judgments, we think we are scientists discovering the truth, but actually we are lawyers arguing for positions we arrived at by other means.” The surprising psychology behind morality is at the heart of social psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s research. He explains “liberal” and “conservative” not narrowly or necessarily as political affiliations, but as personality types — ways of moving through the world. His self-described “conservative-hating, religion-hating, secular liberal instincts” have been challenged by his own studies.
If you heard the show, let me say upfront that I’m not sure I agreed with everything Haidt said. I need more time to chew on some of his ideas. One comment he made that really gave me pause came in his description of the polarization of liberals and conservatives in society:
Yeah, so first, let me be clear that while each side can’t see the flaws in its own matrix, there is a symmetry here, and left and right are similar in some ways. But one of the clearest differences between left and right, psychologically, is that the left is generally universalist, almost to a fault, and the right is parochial, often to a fault. And what I mean by parochial isn’t just “narrow-minded and dumb.” What I mean is — so we have a survey at yourmorals.org where we ask, “How much do you care about or think about or value people in your community, people in your country, people in the world at large?” And OK, so conservatives value people in their nation and in their community much more than people in the world at large. And you might say, OK, well, that’s parochial. But what do liberals do? Liberals on our survey actually say they value people in the world at large more than people in their own country, more than people in their community. So liberals are so universalist, they often don’t really pay much attention to their own groups. As my mother said about my grandfather, who was a labor organizer, “He loved humanity so much that he didn’t really have much time to care for his family.”
You can listen to this episode or find the transcript here.
I have trouble with generalizations and labels so I found some of Haidt’s statements initially off-putting. Then I got to thinking. As Christians, we are clearly charged with loving all our neighbors, those within our local communities and those throughout the global community. We can’t choose loving one at the expense of the other. It’s not at all an “Either/Or” for us; it’s definitely a “Both/And.”
I’m hoping that this slight modification of my perspective might help as I read the many diverse comments and news reports on social media which lately have been disturbingly divisive. If I get bogged down in the details of issues I can’t change, I will miss the opportunity to notice those things I can. This strategy seems to play exactly into the hands of those that would prefer we not notice all that’s going on. If I’m focused on just how wrong the “other side” is, I may overlook the real needs revealed if I read between the lines. I have to remind myself that it’s not about the politics, not about conservative or liberal, or even about Democrat or Republican; it’s about people.
Just this week, for example, I saw a post that reminded me of the easy smoke screens our current administration is using to distract our attention:
While we are all sidetracked by Trump/Pence and the NFL, Trump vs. Puerto Rico, Harvey Weinstein & the Sexual Predation of All Hollywood, the Russian Hacking of the election, or the MLB American League Division Playoffs this week, it’s worth noting that the following bills have been introduced in the House of Representatives:
1. HR 861 to Terminate the Environmental Protection Agency (Like to breathe? This one is not for you.)
2. HR 610 – Vouchers for Public Education (which may end free public education as we know it)
3. HR 899 to Terminate the Department of Education (which may lead to greater disparity between states but nobody who uses public education ever moves so it’s all good)
4. HR 69 to Repeal the Rule Protecting Wildlife (nobody likes nature anyway, right?)
5. HR 370 to Repeal the Affordable Care Act (didn’t we already try this umpteen times?)
6. HR 354 to De-fund Planned Parenthood (because exactly none of your tax dollars go toward abortion services)
7. HR 785 – National “Right to Work” (this one is actually a ‘Right to fire you whenever your boss feels like it” law, and it would effectively end unions)
8. HR 83 – Mobilizing Against Sanctuary Cities Bill (California should just secede now and take all its money)
9. HR 147 to Criminalize Abortion (“Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act”) (because these private decisions should be made by your legislator and employer)
10. HR 808 to Impose Sanctions Against Iran (even though they are in compliance with the agreement according to those in the know)
Before anyone calls me on the accuracy of this report, I did my fact checking. These bills were not introduced last week; in fact, some are a few months old. So it wasn’t the NFL, Harvey Weinstein or the hurricanes that caused us to miss these particular bills, it was actually the early investigation into Russian interference in our elections that pulled our collective attention elsewhere. Regardless of the timing, the same strategy continues: distract us with hot-button issues and we won’t see what’s happening behind the scenes. This week as we were reeling over trying to understand the President’s phone call to the widow of Sgt La David Johnson, Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, rescinded 72 policy documents that provided an outline for the rights of students with disabilities. While advocates for these students continue to figure out the impact of this action, “Lindsay Jones, the chief policy and advocacy officer for the National Center for Learning Disabilities, said she was particularly concerned to see guidance documents outlining how schools could use federal special education money removed,” according to the Chicago Tribune. This little news item might have been easy to miss if we were too caught up in the controversy over grief calls made by the President.
Did you know that you can check on which bills are on the schedule for the House of Representatives? You can go find all the bills that may be considered during this congressional week right here. Once you find the bills that need greater attention, call or write to your legislators so they know that their constituents are watching. Accountability can be a powerful motivator.
The ride to church was just beautiful on Sunday morning and my drive provided quiet time to ponder all these thoughts. In some divine serendipity, the words of Bishop Gibbs’ sermon at my church, St Michael and All Angels in Cambridge Junction, seemed to tie my thoughts together so well that I’d like to share his sermon with you:
Bishop Gibbs’ words affirmed that there’s no room for “Either/Or” in our ministry. Every one of us – even those with whom we disagree – carries the image of God. Each of us bears a piece of God’s story. The only way we can see the whole story is through sharing our pieces with one another:
We are the people of God, made in God’s image with a commitment to our own Baptism to serve others in God’s name. In that commitment to one another, we are to preach the Word of God in what we say and what we do…. And in that service, we are going to find some people who don’t like what we have to say. We going to get push back, and in that push back we’re not supposed to eliminate them from the table. We keep inviting and embracing. It’s only in that way will there be a Beloved Community….It’s a mighty, mighty task. But the Good News is that it’s a task that we have not been left alone to do. The God of love and peace and ultimately embracing diverse inclusion, embraces us and walks with us…and will all the way to the end.
The ugly divisiveness that is permeating all forms of media has no place in our lives and it will only serve to distract us from the real work that we need to do together to nurture God’s Kingdom. Might you join me in looking for the “Both/And’s” of life that we can embrace God’s diverse inclusion?
Let us pray –
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us
through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole
human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which
infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us;
unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and
confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in
your good time, all nations and races may serve you in
harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ
our Lord. Amen.
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council