Moving Forward

Everyday decisions by ordinary citizens matter more than who’s in the White House.

While we await the result of yesterday’s US election, this is a good time to remind ourselves that presidents come and presidents go.

By design, America is a system of checks and balances. The president may set the tone, but in a country of 300+ million people, millions of decisions are made every day. Those decisions matter.

How ordinary citizens behave during the course of a normal week is more important than who’s currently residing in the White House. How young people are trained to think about themselves, free speech, and the wider world at universities is likewise of immense significance.

I’ve been revisiting an excellent book, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure. It argues persuasively that publicly funded universities are inculcating a worldview that’s counterproductive for individuals as well as for society as a whole. Young people are being trained to respond emotionally rather than calmly and coolly. They’re being encouraged to denounce rather than to reason. They’re being encouraged to view fellow citizens as enemies rather than teammates. These quotes feel relevant today:

There is a principle in philosophy and rhetoric called the principle of charity, which says that one should interpret other people’s statements in their best, most reasonable form, not in the worst or most offensive way possible.

it is not a good idea to start by assuming the worst about people and reading their actions as uncharitably as possible. This is the distortion known as mind reading; if done habitually and negatively, it is likely to lead to despair, anxiety, and a network of damaged relationships. [italics in the original]

If we want to create welcoming, inclusive communities, we should be doing everything we can to turn down the tribalism and turn up the sense of common humanity.

 

 

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November 4, 2020 at 06:16AM

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