“Where you see wrong or inequality or injustice, speak out, because this is your country. This is your democracy. Make it. Protect it. Pass it on.” Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall
On the Fourth of July, we take time to celebrate our country’s birth with family and friends. My hope is that we will also reflect on our personal responsibility to make “our” democracy reflect the values of justice, mercy and equality for all. When anyone is denied the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” as declared in the Declaration of Independence, we must speak out. As people of faith who believe that we are all made in God’s image and that our planet home is to be protected for future generations, our collective voices are important.
How we state our beliefs is a crucial component in making sure that we are heard. At the very heart of democracy lies our ability to engage in difference. Bombastic rhetoric, so common in our day, is an ineffective and counterproductive way to communicate. Engaging with one another humbly and respectfully, especially when we are talking to people with whom we disagree, opens up the possibility for real dialogue that can help us find common ground.
Communicating with humility doesn’t mean we surrender our deeply held convictions. Humility does require us to listen deeply to the person we are in discussion with, and makes it more likely we will have a clearer understanding of the opposing viewpoint. Asking good questions helps to clarify and identify the nuances and complexities that underlie our beliefs.
Positive, sincere encounters with people we disagree with can begin to chip away at the stereotypes we have about others. We may not change our opinion about an issue, but if we end the conversation with more genuine compassion for the individual, we have come a long way towards building communities that can work together for the common good.
Jan Musgrove Elfers