I have to have the courage to try new things I can so easily dismiss as “not for this guy!” I have to be willing to change my mind.
“It does take great maturity to understand that the opinion we are arguing for is merely the hypothesis we favor, necessarily imperfect, probably transitory, which only very limited minds can declare to be a certainty or a truth.” — Milan Kundera, author
I know this much is true. I get it wrong in this life. A lot. I have opinions that need to change. Biases that need to be challenged. Self-righteous convictions that need to be overturned. I’m actually wrong several times a day.
So this past Saturday evening, on the last night of summer, under clear skies and crisp temperatures, I was at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, watching the New England Revolution professional soccer team play the Chicago Fire. For years I gave a friend of mine a really hard time about his diehard status as a “football” fan. I argued that soccer was in fact boring — just a bunch of folks running up and down, up and down the field, this repetitive display of play rarely punctuated by the actual scoring of a goal. I was half-serious and half-silly. I loved ribbing him, but was also very set in my ways.
But then I finally decided to go to a game with him, to give it a chance, spend a few hours under the lights with 20,000 or so other fans and … WOW! It was a great match. Really exciting. The players were amazing, so athletic, kicking and heading the ball in ways unfathomable. The match was tight and hard fought and came down to the final minutes. When our home team scored in the waning moments of the match, I leapt to my feet and roared with joy.
And so I was wrong. And so I am wrong, too.
Not just about soccer but also about other ideas and issues and beliefs, too. It used to be hard for me to confess when I was mistaken, or made an incorrect assumption, or held some belief I thought sacred and inviolable but that was in fact incorrect. If challenged I’d dig in my heels, argue even harder, double down on my self-righteousness and never, ever, ever, ever back off.
But then I grew up. Came to see that to be a fully formed and mature human being, to get along with folks I share this life with, I need to be open to new ideas and new ways of looking at the world. I have to actually listen to an opponent with respect and care. I have to dig deeper, do research and look at both sides with thoughtfulness. I have to have the courage to try new things I can so easily dismiss as “not for this guy!” I have to be willing to change my mind.
About things like a soccer match. Or a political belief. Or a moral stance. Or a religious ideal. Or a partisan conviction.
That soccer epiphany reminded me of a larger reality about right and wrong and right now. We are in a civic crisis in the United States: more divided, more angry, and more convicted by our unwavering convictions than ever before, at least in my lifetime. Democrats and Republicans move in lock step as partisan foot soldiers, more loyal to their own kind and their own way of thinking than to country. We are “led” by firebrand politicians who rarely, if ever, admit when they are wrong. We are awash in media and social media that is ever hungry and hungrier for a cruel tweet, a nasty insult, or a sweeping opinion that condemns a whole group of humans as “less than” or “the enemy.”
As the poet William Butler Yeats wrote in “The Second Coming,” “Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed ... The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity.”
I don’t think this judgment is overly dramatic. For the worst among us these days are so full of passionate intensity, are so sure of their own beliefs that they would even take down the community as a whole, even the nation as a whole and why?
To be “right.”
I’m almost always idealistic about the future of our land and world, the days ahead, and our ability as a species to overcome whatever crises we face. I want to believe, I need to believe that at some point those who lead us will let go of ego, self-interest and blind conviction to actually do the work of our democracy. But if this is to happen, all of us as citizens must leave the safety of our righteousness and have the courage to imagine that we may be wrong. That we may need for our minds and hearts to change. That the common good will happen when folks meet somewhere beyond mere passionate intensity.
I’m wrong today. My opponent, too. That’s the place to start.
The Rev. John F. Hudson is senior pastor of the Pilgrim Church, United Church of Christ, in Sherborn (pilgrimsherborn.org). If you have a word or idea you’d like defined in a future column or have comments, please send them email@example.com or in care of the Dover-Sherborn Press (Dover-Sherborn@wickedlocal.com).