Uncommon Common Sense
By Bill Frayer
Do I Have to Like Everybody?
No. Of course not. That would be very unlikely, probably impossible. But I think it’s beside the point.
I am a Unitarian Universalist. Of course I’ve heard all the Unitarian jokes centering around the idea that we don’t know what we believe. Very funny, but not accurate. As UUs, we do not have a creed, or a prescribed set of theological prescriptions to which we must adhere. Instead, we have a set of seven principles which we agree to embrace. For many of us, the first principle is the most difficult to live up to.
It sounds innocuous enough: “We believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person.” It seems like a no-brainer, yet every morning I get up and glance at the news headlines, and by 9AM I have broken the first principle
Let’s face it. There are people who we instinctively do not like. There are people with whom we have vehement disagreements. There are people who seem to have values that we deplore. There are people who do not understand the level of their own ignorance but insist on throwing their uninformed opinions around like birdseed... You get the picture.
Now, when I read this over, it sounds like we are a bunch of intolerant elitists. Maybe we are.
But for me, the question is, how do I value the inherent worth and dignity of a person with whom I disagree or do not hold in high regard.
Obviously, we do not need to agree with or even like a person in order to understand their worth and value. But it is often difficult to get past our negative view of a person in order to appreciate his/her individual value. So how can we do this? I have several suggestions which relate to my career in teaching critical thinking.
First, avoid jumping to conclusions about someone. In the overwhelming majority of cases, Muslims are not violent, Trump voters are not racist, developmentally-delayed people are not stupid, and politicians are not corrupt. These are stereotypes, not accurate generalizations. When we encounter someone who is easily stereotyped, don’t. Getting to know them will prove it.
It’s easy to get into arguments with people with whom we disagree. Problem is, it rarely works. Neither of you is listening. Instead, try asking questions and listening to the answers. I can almost guarantee that, over time, you will find some areas of agreement.
People are the same, basically. We all fall on Maslow’s scale. We want food and water, a safe environment, good friends, satisfying work, etc. Once we cut through our preconceived, media-driven ideas about who people are and how they must think, we find they are good souls, just like us.
Sometimes, of course, this is difficult. Consider those white supremacy demonstrators in Virginia in August. It is difficult to see their worth and value when they were spewing their hate and venom. They say sinfulness is rooted in brokenness. Maybe so. Maybe they are broken. It is difficult to the worth and dignity of Neo-Nazis, for sure. I doubt meeting them and having a conversation would help much. Maybe it would be a start.
We all struggle with this. Yet now, more than ever, we need to find a way to come together. We need, somehow, to find ways to connect on a personal level. We won’t get anywhere screaming across a gaping divide. It’s the only way we can move ahead peacefully and productively.
Yes. The first principle is difficult, but it’s worth the work.
Column: Uncommon Common Sense
Bill Frayer lived all of his adult life in Maine until moving to Mexico in 2007. He had a long career teaching writing, critical thinking, and communication at the community college and university level. He has published a critical thinking textbook and four volumes of poetry. Stirring up trouble with his column for the last eight years, he enjoys hearing from those who have strong opinions about what he writes. Now a snowbird back in Maine, he enjoys playing blues, eating lobster, and fishing with his granddaughter. In Ajijic he enjoys leading TED talks at LCS and talking poetry with his fellow poets.