Learning to Disagree Agreeably

A Peanuts cartoon, seemingly incidental at best, has become seared in my mind. In it, Charlie Brown, in utter frustration at something or someone, shouts: “I love all mankind. It’s people I can’t stand”. Frankly there are times when I feel the same; loving everyone is no problem but loving an individual person can be a daunting task. In this present political world of Brexit and internet hacking, of mistrust and of widespread political discontent, at times I myself just want to scream!

Yet, thankfully, there are more calm and focused people with brighter views who can perhaps lead us out of our seemingly endless cycle of confusion and are somehow able to grasp the essence of who we are as individuals and as a nation.

Untitled 1On May 21, during the graduation ceremony for Bucknell University’s Class of 2017, a banner the class designed together four years previously was appropriated displayed behind the dais. It proclaimed the simple but profound class motto, inscribed in Latin and English: "The power to transform the future lies within our differences."

For me this banner readily brings to mind the prophecy of a new Davidic king from the book of Isaiah, concluding with: “a little child shall guide them” (Isaiah 11:6). In this instance, perhaps our youth have seen their way through our political maelstrom to a view from a far distant shore, a place where we can understand how to calm our souls and enlighten our minds and attain peace at last.

In his following address, the CNN journalist, Fareed Zakaria, built upon this class motto and stated: "Freedom of speech, freedom of thought, is not freedom for people we like, for warm, fuzzy ideas that we find comfortable. It is for ideas that you find offensive. There is no idea that is beyond the pale. Everything should be within the arena and should be worth contesting."

Untitled 2In my own family, I remember well my own father’s seemingly split personality as he often complained about “those Spics (Hispanics)”, referring to those aggressive teens who regularly came into his Pet Store and lifted some of his supplies. Yet, on the other hand, our family knew two neighboring Hispanic families whom we all truly loved. I asked my father about this apparent contradiction, to which he responded, “These two families are not like those other Hispanic troublemakers” – an explanation that seemed to make sense to him.

In religious circles, we also have a similar challenge from the Bucknell University Class of 2017 to realize our differences, trying to understand where persons from different faiths or ethnic backgrounds are coming from and attempt to keep listening and learning from the other, as we continue to live and work alongside them.

The terrible shooting by a lone gunman of Steve Scalise, the Republican whip of the House of Representatives, who was on the ballfield in Alexandria, VA, in preparation for the traditional Republican-Democratic Baseball game was a tragic and senseless event. In response to the shooting, we hear the strong non-partisan words of Speaker Paul D. Ryan who commented: “For all the noise and all the fury, we are one family.” In fact, all joined in prayer for the life of Representative Scalise and the others who were injured.

One Washington official stated that, despite their often angry political dealings with each other, many House Representatives know well the families and relatives of representative from the other party. They are friends! Perhaps this can give us hope that in their differences, they can find agreement and a way to go forward together.

Bucknell University President Bravman also made specific reference in his closing remarks saying: "More than ever, successful navigation of the world requires conscientious examination of our differences… Remember to seek out, and strive to understand, an array of perspectives – especially those that challenge your own."

Perhaps the hopeful vision of the prophet Isaiah will be realized soon – perhaps in our own day and age: “Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat; The calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.”

Untitled 3Bucknell University's 17th President, John Bravman

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