Friday, June 11, 2010

The One I Feed: Civil Discourse and the Individual

Civil discourse does not mean a conversation in which people are nice to one another. Niceness is nice, but it's not going to bring us to a new understanding. Where there is no argument, there is no civil discourse. To engage in this form of participatory democracy, one must bring an earnest desire to learn from divergent viewpoints. To shut up for just a minute and listen. To resist the urge to formulate a rebuttal even as the other person is still speaking.

Our system of democracy as it was envisioned by the framers of the constitution depends upon a certain kind of talk: lively, honorable, respectful, deliberate debate and disagreement. Yet in this country at this moment, political disagreement comes to us in the form of talk radio shock jocks, town hall screaming matches, and hate speech. This kind of rhetoric compromises the ability of citizens to engage in critical conversation required for a functioning democracy.

Civil discourse thrives when we operate with a healthy sense of self and a strong moral center, by which I mean (among other things) a fundamental respect for others. So here's where literature enters the equation. Literature is nothing but storytelling, and the primary function of storytelling is to help us define our moral center.

A story from folklore:
A tribal elder told his grandson about a battle the old man was waging within himself. He said, My son, it is between two wolves. One is an evil wolf: anger, envy, sorrow, greed, self-pity, guilt, resentment, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is the good wolf: joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.
The boy took this in for a few minutes and then asked, Which wolf won? His grandfather answered: The one I feed.

With gratitude to Bill Moyers Journal "Rage on the Radio"

1 comment:

  1. We generally preach to the converted in important areas of our lives: politically, artistically. I appreciate the "going out on a limb" aspect of this project, the way it will touch people outside of your pulpit, for better or worse. I'm curious about how that will change the writing. I look forward to hearing about that as the minutes turn into months.


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