One of the cool, and often exasperating, things about being a parent is that you get to be somewhat omniscient. Not in the observing-the-thoughts-of-billions-people-at-once kind of way, but rather in the seeing-things-from-multiple-perspectives sense. Each time a disagreement breaks out in the bathtub or backseat, I have the privilege seeing both sides of the argument. (Okay sometimes at least one side of the argument consists of “Poo-poo head,” but even there, they might have a point, figuratively speaking that is.). Sometimes, though, it feels less like a privilege and more like a burden. Like an engrossed tennis spectator, I turn from one side to another, ping-ponging back and forth trying to establish peace on earth and goodwill toward men, or at least to prevent bloodshed at bath time. One of the most infuriating aspects of being the all-seeing eye in my children’s lives is that often those on both sides of a disagreement are right.
Whether it is my experience of the battlefield of parenthood or just a by-product of growing older, more and more I find myself questioning certain previously held ideas regarding conflicting points of view. Renowned for my overly opinionated nature, of late I have found myself not apathetic but perhaps sympathetic to both sides in some rather crucial areas of debate, all of which involve not just a matter of differing opinions but a difference of worldview. When your starting points are diametrically opposed, how can you ever come to an agreement? And if agreement is impossible to achieve, why bother arguing?
Don’t get me wrong. I haven’t turned relativist on you. When two people begin with the same assumptions and yet reach differing conclusions, I think debate a worthwhile exercise. For example, at a recent dinner party, a discussion arose over a character familiar to anyone in the single digit age range or those who spend a great deal of time with said age range. The debate concerned whether or not Dora the Explorer promotes a gracious attitude towards sinners or a permissive view of sin. One side argued that Dora’s loving approach to Swiper the Fox teaches children forgiveness and grace. The other side (also known as the people who are right about this issue) maintained that the show’s refusal to shun Swiper despite his lack of repentance teaches children that bad behavior reaps no bad consequences. Now, seen in a certain light, there is no reconciling these two views because there are aspects of truth on both sides. But one could also say that both views are like two sides of a coin, all part of the truth, just seen from different angles.
But what if you aren’t dealing in the same worldview currency? What if the assumed values are so incompatible that it is like comparing apples to oranges? Take the heated and historic political debate which has occupied the minds of so many of us over the past several months. On one side, you have people who believe healthcare is a human right; government intervention is necessary in order to reduce healthcare costs and provide everyone with coverage. On the other side, you have people who believe that extending the umbrella of human rights in order to include healthcare is a dangerous precedent; that tort reform is more appropriate than nationalizing the healthcare system. Of course, these views are held along a spectrum with few on the extremes of either end. Even so, it seems unlikely that many will meet in the middle. Ironically, it seems the trouble here is that both sides want to get to the same place (affordable healthcare for any who care to have it) but have chosen drastically different modes of getting there. While I have little tolerance for politicians engaging in bribery and deceit in order to ensure victory for their side, I feel empathy for those who sincerely desire to see change for the underprivileged and more opportunities for all. I keep asking myself, “If I were them and heard me (not as them but as myself), what would I (as them) think?” Maybe this is where we can learn something from our friend Dora. According to Wikipedia “Dora has a positive view of the characters she meets, failing even to hold a grudge against the mischievous fox Swiper… She acts against villains only when it seems that compromise is impossible, and even in these cases, fails to display actual anger.” It might seem a bit childish, but maybe there’s some wisdom there. Should we model this approach? Well, then, as the theme song goes, “You can lead the way! Hey! Hey!”