By Fr. Glenn Jones:
Here we are in mid-August … another election just around the corner. Oh boy … oh joy (max eye roll). Slanted news stories, and out-of-context—or simply made up—quotes abound. Doctored videos and recordings, cancel culture, bullying of those with contrary opinions … especially on social mean-ia. The assertion of examples of extreme behaviors or events as societal norms in order to buttress contrary positions. Arguing adversaries leaping from point to point as soon as a position begins to crumble rather than continuing to a logical conclusion … bringing to mind: “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” (Proverbs 18:2)
Newsroom interview/discussion shouting matches with everyone speaking simultaneously … none listening—the goal seemingly to score “gotcha!” points rather than advance knowledge (this latter point seems to have spilled over even in daily conversations; often one can hardly begin to speak in normal daily discussion nowadays without being interrupted). Why are people, one muses, so afraid to dialogue civilly and patiently … and truthfully?
One can’t help but wonder whether those who limit, or even refuse, civil discourse and dialogue are simply afraid of having their minds changed … to have to acknowledge that their own reasoning or knowledge is faulty, or even admit that they are (gasp!) wrong.
A movie scene that I find myself often recalling—and envying—is that in “Dances with Wolves” when the Sioux village leaders are discussing the lone soldier (Kevin Costner) who had planted himself in the nearby theretofore abandoned fort. Each of the leaders gave his observations and opinion calmly and without interruption … the others politely and attentively listening and considering carefully the comments before themselves speaking (what a concept!). Such wise dialogue is what the rules of order in many legislative houses, committees and councils are meant to cultivate. But, alas … such seems to be becoming increasingly rare, with members often opting rather for a quick moment in the spotlight via extreme and rude behaviors.
Many institutions of higher learning trumpet the phrase: “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free”… quoting Jesus (John 8:32). While we Christians believe, of course, that Jesus had an absolute grasp of truth and, indeed, IS truth (“I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6)) … the rest of humanity, not so much. Thus John Milton wrote: “Where this is much desire to learn, there of necessity will be much arguing, much writing, many opinions; for opinion in good men is but knowledge in the making.” (Areopagitica).
Anyone who has taken a philosophy (the word meaning “love of wisdom”) class knows that patient dialogue and debate is an absolute in order to come to reasoned opinion or theory. It’s the same with science. What scientific and mathematical understanding and theory could possibly be obtained if scientists, engineers and mathematicians didn’t listen thoroughly and completely to one another and thereby build upon verifiable knowledge already obtained? In other realms, should we refuse to listen and build upon that which has been found valid and truthful, we end up spinning our wheels—or worse—in accordance with that rather hackneyed (yet truthful) adage that those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.
The French author Francois de La Rochefoucauld wrote: “The true way to be deceived is to think oneself more clever than others,” (Maxim 127) and “We rarely find that people have good sense unless they agree with us” (Maxim 347) … a fault that society seems to have in spades these days, and one that is counterproductive in the extreme. Theory must be tested in the crucible of reasoned (and courteous) discussion and debate, else they are simply unproven ideas. And, if we refuse discussion, that’s all they’ll ever be; feelings and emotions alone are no guarantors of truth.
So … let’s be rebels! … rebelling against the common trend of the day and actually discussing ideas with others with all courtesy and patience, and reject interjecting snarky and misleading comments in speech or media. This is yet another way we can start to be lights to the world that are good … and what Jesus calls us to be. Courtesy and patience ARE virtues, after all, so St. Paul writes: “…speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all men.” (Titus 3:2)
Knowledge, wisdom and truth are as precious as gold, but to find them we must be as prospectors, taking all into our pan, patiently washing through it with water of reason before we can obtain valuable nuggets. However, a prospector who refuses to work, or to wash away valueless detritus, finds little, if any, wealth.
Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.