RISKING CLOSE CONTACT ON BATTLE GROUNDS

“To some extent we are all the prisoners of stereotypes; we see each other in terms of distorted and oversimplified images…And by seeing more clearly we may act more wisely.”

Chester Bowles, The Conscience of a Liberal, 1962

When I came across Bowles quote I immediately recalled a U.C.C campus minister at Arizona State University with whom I shared an office in the Methodist building. It was during the Vietnam and campus unrest in the 70s. My colleague, Brent, was beyond liberal, the community saw him as a crazed radical and I would contend he had a hint of Trump likeness in him. On the first week of my appointment to the position he was featured on the front page of the city newspaper. It depicted several students surrounding a mail box and sending their draft cards back to Washington D.C. The headline read “Reverend Brent Jackson, Director of the Methodist Center.” I got the flak from the church, Brent got the glory on the streets.

Eventually he and the university Vice President began butting heads. They often stood on the campus quad shouting at each other at a distance among huge crowds for an hour or more. They would frequently ask me to convey their sentiments to their counterparts. I urged them to meet one-on-one but they refused to get near each other.

Roger Cohen stated in his New York Times column recently that “Liberalism demands acceptance of our human differences of multiple, perhaps incompatible truths. In an age of declamation and shouting, of polarization and vilification, of politics-for-sale and the insidious submersion of politics in fact-lite entertainment, the emergence of Trump is as unsurprising as it is menacing.”

I don’t think it is all ‘fact-lite entertainment’ that spews forth by the mouths of candidates and Congress people. There has to be some bit of truth when beings bash each other out of anger or rage. We need to discern what is beneath those explosive gestures. There is likely a smidgeon of fear in the mix. Most of us don’t want to go there. I was able to detect some dread, and maybe a little respect that Brent and the Vice President had for each other. They were both brilliant, caring and wanting the best for their constituents.

I never miss a chance to make a big deal out of what I have learned about the Insula in our brains. There must be some reason that compassion, anger and fear are jammed together in the same cranial organ. Maybe by seeing more clearly we may act more wisely as Chester Bowles suggests when we accept we all have genuine and tender, deep feelings within us. The kicker is we have to engage one-on-one and that is not happening much in this day and age. Have Congress people ever sneaked out to make close contact with an adversary? If not, we and they will remain mere prisoners of stereotypes; we see each other in terms of distorted and oversimplified images.

By the way, Brent gave up on ministry and became an insurance salesperson and the Vice President became the President of a Texas University. Two great guys, from my perspective, with buried tenderness.

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