Pluralistic approach seeks common understanding

Gleanings by Crockford

Dick Crockford, Publisher, Dillon Tribune

There are plenty of times when we want or need a “do over,” a chance to make different decisions that will presumably lead to better outcomes.

Of course, with the new year comes the opportunity to learn new skills, make improvements to our personal situations and generally take some steps that lead to personal growth. And, personally, I believe that doing so on a wide scale – read “everybody” – could result in great improvements to the socio-economic situation in this country and elsewhere, simply because better people would logically make better decisions.

Of course, making these positive improvements to self would also involve admitting the need to do so in the first place. When people make real improvements to their persons, be it physical, spiritual or economic – or all three – others take notice. It seems to me that good examples rarely engender bad results.

While just expecting folks to behave better doesn’t guarantee positive results, it can be a path toward gradual change for the better, across society. Again, it’s that influence of good example. An important factor here that cannot be overlooked is that one must become a better listener and use his vocal chords only when necessary.

I honestly think we would all be better off with bigger (or at least, more sensitive) ears and smaller mouths. We spend too much time talking about how things should be, and in particular how others should conduct themselves if they hope to get ahead. And, if we truly lean in the direction of being better listeners, of really paying attention to what others are trying to tell us about their hopes and needs, we can come up with ways to give a “hand up” more often, lessening the need for a “handout.”

It seems to me we would all be better off if there was less dictation and more compassion when it comes to dealing with each other. If we had more of the latter and none of the former, the world would be far better off. As a matter of fact, that is the essence of the teachings of Jesus: pay more attention to your own faults and follies, and see to it that your neighbor is well and loved.

As I have aged, I have grown weary of politics and have come to view the energy expended to push our private points of view on one another as being destructive to society and as serving little that is positive for the common good. Admittedly, this is a very simplistic way of looking at a convoluted society in a complicated world. Much as I would like it to be so, I am not so delusional that I believe I will ever see such a world in my lifetime.

No single political or economic system has all the answers. If that were so, we would have no wars and all would be happy and well fed. It is foolish to insist that what works for me is what you should embrace. No, if my example is not enough evidence to at least get you to consider doing it the way I do, I need to rethink what I am doing, not what you are doing.

The notion of “pluralism” is beginning to gain some traction as a means of lessening political tensions and enhancing the effectiveness of seeking solutions. Harvard University’s Pluralism Project (http://www.pluralism.org/pluralism/what_is_pluralism) notes that pluralism, which focuses on listening to and considering a diversity of viewpoints in order to move forward for the common good, “is used in different ways across a wide range of topics.” Additionally, pluralism “denotes a diversity of views and stands rather than a single approach or method of interpretation.”

In other words, we respectfully listen to what others have to say and in turn, they listen to what we might have to offer on any given topic, rather than trying to shout each other down like twenty-somethings at happy hour.

Diana Eck of Harvard’s Pluralism Project points out that pluralism is “not diversity alone, but the energetic engagement with diversity.” It involves “real encounter” and meaningful relationship. She also says pluralism “is not just tolerance, but the active seeking of understanding across lines of difference. … not relativism, but the encounter of commitments” and is “based on dialogue.”

Pluralism, by Eck’s explanation is much fuller means of communicating and exchanging ideas than by debate, and that it also allows participants to maintain their personal convictions and commitments:“The language of pluralism is that of dialogue and encounter, give and take, criticism and self-criticism,” she writes. “Dialogue means both speaking and listening, and that process reveals both common understandings and real differences. Dialogue does not mean everyone at the “table” will agree with one another. Pluralism involves the commitment to being at the table — with one’s commitments.”

With all this in mind, I’ve made the personal choice at this point to move forward in the new year to really try to engage in less debate and argument, and in greater pursuit of pluralistic solutions.

(Gleanings is a personal opinion column by Dick Crockford, publisher of the Dillon Tribune.)