There is no point in entering into dialogue if we are not willing to be changed by the encounter.—Karen Armstrong
Who can say if I've been changed for the better? But since I knew you, I have been changed for good.=-- from musical, Wicked
I have just returned from the General Assembly in Charlotte, NC. It was a fabulous event and at least four events were worth the price of admission alone. One was the Nick Page New Epiphany service in which science was celebrated as sacred and holy and divine. Another was the Moderator’s Report during the final plenary given by Gini Courter. Her words were prophetic and compelling (and you can check out all these events via streaming technology—just go to uua.org). The third thing worth the price of admission was just getting to spend time with my colleagues and friends that are scattered like stardust across the nation.
And the fourth event was the Ware Lecture given by theologian Karen Armstrong. She spoke on the subject of her book, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life and noted that we need compassion more than ever. We need to see people as individuals and not as some caricatureof an ideology for which we think they stand. She asked are we in fact, willing to be changed by dialogue with others who have differing perspectives than we do?
I have over 800 friends on facebook. Most of these asked me to be friends, (I suspect through the automatic process of having fb go through their address books and ask everyone they know to be friends). Certainly, the vast majority of those 800 plus friends don’t interact with me on a consistent basis. But there is one person who I specifically asked to be my friend even though I have never met him. I did this after I read a response he had written on a mutual friend’s post. Our mutual friend, a solid liberal, had posted something that I totally agreed with and this third party had written something so clearly in opposition to it that, I admit somewhat sheepishly, I thought it was a wry and facetious. In such a perspective, I thought it was funny so I asked him to be my friend.
So imagine my surprise when this new friend started making comments on my posts that were counter to my own beliefs. It was startling. And, never having met him, it quickly became the lens through which I viewed him. I will even admit to some exasperation at his comments. I began to wonder if it had been a bad idea to friend him—or at least to do so without reading his profile first.
So I did finally read his profile, flipped through his pictures. And I discovered a person with many layers of diversity—a musician, a scuba diver, someone who loves cats (!) and I realized he was more than his political views. I discovered he was a complex person with a depth beyond our differing perspectives and, at the end of the day, a very likable person, indeed.
He still posts on my links opinions that are vastly different than mine and we will probably never agree on many things. But I have been changed by the dialogue—I have been changed, not my persectives on the economy, government, etc.
Now when I read his comments, I do so with a smile, with compassion, with a more appreciatvie understanding of who he is. And perhaps, if he ever comes to the Springs to visit our mutual friends we could go out for coffee, sit down face to face and deepen the dialogue.
All in all, it’s been a good experience for me, to look beyond the ideology to the person. A good reminder that we are more than our points of view and that we are each humans of inherent worth and dignity. Even when we disagree, even when we can’t see eye to eye. And when we see that, a diatribe does become a dialogue and we are changed.