Editorial: Can You Hear Me Now?

The Verizon guy’s mantra is of course intended to demonstrate the breadth of the company’s phone reception. But if you think of the hordes that always accompany him on his missions as hard-core ideologues, the commercials start to look like metaphors for present-day issues.

• President Barack Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) have spent a great amount of time trying to work out a deal on the debt ceiling, expense cutting and revenue enhancement.  Yet each time they go back to their respective sides, they seem exasperated by the legislators and lobbyists whose idea of negotiating is, “As long as I get everything I want, I’m cool.” While Rome burns,  hardliners fiddle (no standing ovation here).

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• The terrorist organization Hamas has shown its radical stripes by  rejecting as its prime minister, Salam Fayyad, who has a Ph.D. from the University of Texas, and worked at the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank and the International Monetary Fund, Too friendly to Israel, they say. Yeah, right. Anyone who has read about Fayyad knows he’s fervently committed to the statehood cause, but hasn’t historically believed either violence (or for that matter, negotiation) is an effective tool. So if he doesn’t want to blow things and people up, Hamas isn’t interested.

• Then are those who have to make every incident, no matter how tragic, fit their distorted world view, far, far from the center and from any semblance of reality.  So when Glenn Beck compares victims of the terrible Oslo, Norway mass murder by a radical maniac to “Hitler Youth,” because they were attending a political camp (that by the way had been in existence for over six decades), it shows how painfully out of the mainstream he is. And no, Beck gets no free pass on such comments simply because he supports Israel – blatant cruelty in the aftermath of tragedy is disgusting no matter one’s views.  

We’re having a tough time talking to one another.  We don’t seem to have a way to find the center these days.  Some say it’s because we are more invested in engaging those with whom we agree.  Others suggest we are just engaging a whole lot less;  we can affirm our own beliefs by finding someone in the blogosphere who agrees with what we think, nod and smile knowingly, hurl vituperation, and call it a day.

But that’s not true dialogue, not in the meaning of the Greek dialogos,  to converse. Speaking with those who we share views with is easy; hearing, understanding and discussing those things on which we have disparate views is hard. And we seem to be collectively shunning hard in favor of easy. 

People’s ethics and morals may be black and white, but the world isn’t.  We can’t use every incident to paint those we oppose ideologically as dangerous or evil.  You don’t have to agree with President Obama to believe he’s a sane, analytical human being. You don’t have to like Hamas to disagree with how Israel conducts itself in international affairs. And you don’t have to be a far-left revolutionary to know Glenn Beck’s rhetoric is poisonous.

We’re sending the wrong message to our children, to young adults.  It’s one thing to pass onto a new generation values, morals and ethics. It’s quite another to teach them that if your friends disagree with you, they must be your enemies. That’s not how the world works. An effective, lasting world, anyway.

We believe it’s critical to put our resources where our mouth is.  That’s why we started  our Can We Talk? series (in conjunction with our colleagues at the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Jewish Community Center). Sure, we recognize that disagreeing can engender spirited and sometimes pointed debate. But as organizations devoted to community, which itself requires civility, discourse and reason, it is incumbent on us to push forward and encourage conversation on important topics. 

We owe it to our friends, neighbors and families to engage privately in civil discussion as well. Lively and impassioned, of course. But we are collectively smart and strong enough as a community to set a good example for a new generation of adults.  Keep talking, keep disagreeing, but let’s honor and respect each other as we go forward and do so.  Otherwise, we’ll all wind up in fiefdoms of enemies, and that’s not a place in which we care to live.