It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
I mentioned in an earlier post that a childhood friend of mine, Tony Kushner, won the Pulitzer for his play Angels in America. I have only seen the movie of it, and movies do not have the immediacy and intimacy of a play. But just looking at movies, I preferred Tony’s screenplay for the film Munich, for which he, co-writer Eric Roth and director Steven Spielberg all received Oscar nominations.
And I never want to see it again.
It was just too depressing. Watching the emotional pain and confusion of the Israelis who were hunting down and executing those responsible for the Munich attack was emotionally wringing enough. But the film also portrays the horror on the Arab side as well, showing what they and their families were going through. In fact when the film came out, Tony, Roth and Spielberg took flack for being too sympathetic to the Arabs.
I liked it for exactly that reason. Not because I’m of Arabic descent; except for a grandmother straight out of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, I think of myself as American. Rather, I liked Munich because it tried to be sympathetic to both sides. There are powerful forces that do not wish us to look, and listen, think, and feel, because when we put aside our prejudices, when we start to see the humanity in our adversaries, then we start to see common ground where we can agree. That would make those powerful forces much less powerful. So what I hope to do with this blog, in fact, is to get people to look at all sides, be sympathetic to all positions, before we make decisions.
For instance to my mind, one difference between popular literature and serious literature, is that in the popular view, there are good guys (who are just like us) and there are bad guys (who are completely different). That is also the difference between populist government and serious government, and the popular populism is evident in politically divisive rhetoric: American vs foreigner, right vs left, white vs nonwhite, Christian vs Muslim, capitalist vs socialist.
But in great literature, and in great statesmanship, there are only people. Everyone in the narrative is a reflection of us. We see ourselves everywhere.
There are really bad guys, of course, the Ted Bundys and Adolf Hitlers, people who are most definitely different. I will come back to them in the future. But to deal with the rest of humanity, we need to see the shared concerns. And to do that, we need to be able to seriously consider other viewpoints.
When we don’t, then we make the decision that ideology is more important than humanity, and that – somehow – divisiveness is more productive than compassion and communication. We can point fingers at many people who are responsible for this, and we can talk about the reasons that we behave in this way.
First of all, we all need to point at the mirror. Admitting we have a problem is the first step to recovery. And when we admit that we are all part of the problem then, yet again, we start to see our shared humanity, and we can start to see where we agree, and where we can begin to cooperate.
And then we need to look beyond who we think is our enemy. I have noted that we tend to get caught up in an ‘us against them‘ mindset, and that the powerful will pit us against each other in order to protect their power, position, and privilege. To protect themselves, it is important that we fight against each other, refuse to listen, and deny the shared concerns and values of the other side. Anger is key, because anger prevents us from working together against them.
Right now we are in one of the most disturbing and divisive presidential campaigns in US history. What both sides have in common, however, is that they are seeing the rise of outside challengers, who agree on one point: our government doesn’t work for us, it works for the powerful.
There’s the rub. And here is the essential thing that we all need to recognize: the other side is not the real enemy.
The real enemy is the people urging us to fight.
Puppets courtesy of Tony Sinnett.