Opinion

We must truly see and listen to others to solve problems

America’s esteemed philosopher John Dewey said democracy is “a mode of associated living.”

How are we going to work things out so that we can keep being together?

A lot of us — myself included — think we have something important to contribute. Just think of the number of problems before us. I’ll pick two in our current politics.

Over the past year, events in Missouri, New York and South Carolina exposed a crisis of trust for police forces and our deep racial divisions. It’s an understatement to say that people are disappointed. People are disgusted and worried.

Climate change is real. It’s caused by human industrial activities like burning fossil fuels, industrial agriculture and deforestation.

The overwhelming majority of those who monitor and measure these things — 97 percent of climate scientists for example — agree human-caused climate change puts many of us in jeopardy, particularly the poor and marginalized. Yet for decades, well-funded doubt merchants working around the clock have hindered our understanding, much less meaningful action.

On both of these issues, how can we have a good mode of associated living to co-create a better world? Maybe I’ve made it sound bleak. It is. And yet, it’s not.

Doing democracy is hard work. And if hard work is meaningful, most of us agree hard work pays.

We the people should recognize two things in that Dewey quote. Association means that we come together and see others as the best versions of themselves that they can be. If I believe that, then I have to see the possibility of my best self in you and you in me.

To paraphrase Martin Buber and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., we should approach one another as “I” and “thou,” people to be revered.

I’ve worked through difficult things. As a dyed-in-the-wool nonbeliever, I’ve done reconciliation work with evangelical preachers. As an environmentalist, I’ve talked with people who represent fracking companies.

It’s not easy. But can we do patient work even when it’s urgent? Yes. We have to.

That leads us to the mode: deep conversation. It’s incumbent on us as inheritors of a great democratic republic constitution. There is a lot of talking right now. But do we have the ability and even the courage — yes, the courage — to listen to one another and reconcile our differences for our common good?

That is our task. I look forward to hearing you as we reinvent citizenship together.

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