Have we lost sight of compassion?

In this age of Donald Trump, we’re all well aware of the polarization of political thought in our country. However, as a practicing architect here in Santa Fe for almost 30 years, what concerns me most is the polarization of thought outside and beyond politics within this community.

Over the years as I have practiced my profession, I have found that when there has been a dispute or contentious issue, particularly those of significance, the parties involved have become more and more entrenched in their positions. The genuine interest of clearly understanding the other’s perspective has all but disappeared.

Even for liberals who despise Trump (we have many here locally), some seem to have taken on a similar, bitter close-mindedness, in that they seem to have no interest in seeing the issue from the other side.

It wasn’t always this way. When I started out in the profession in the ’80s, there seems to have been more civility. It may be just my imagination, but it seems that since that time, and especially since Trump took office, there has been a hardening stance on issues of importance. I am not alone in seeing an increase in this phenomenon. Other business associates I speak to share the same view. Be it general contractors, craftsman, engineers or suppliers, many of them quietly complain about how difficult it has become providing services to their clientele. I can’t imagine this division isn’t found outside the design and building professions as well.

Part of the problem stems from the endless tweets that seems to have permeated much of our communication. Conflicting issues tend to be distilled down to black and white sound bites, with the subtle shades of gray washed away. Complexities unexplored.

Have we lost sight of compassion? And by compassion, I do not mean pity. As expressed by the author Karen Armstrong, “It means to ‘experience with’ the other. The golden rule — the principle of treating others as you want to be treated — lies at the heart of morality. It requires a principled, ethical and imaginative effort to put self-interest to one side and stand in somebody else’s shoes.”

I believe for many of us, the core problem with Trump is that he lacks a strong moral compass, which impacts all of the decisions he makes. That void of morality has found its way into the country’s psyche.

The golden rule, as Armstrong notes, “requires us to look into our own hearts, discover what gives us pain, and then refuse to inflict this pain on anybody else. It impels us to examine our presuppositions, change our minds if necessary, and submit our assessment of a dilemma to stringent criticism … instead of simply relying on discussion that happens to chime with our own opinions. Compassion demands that we dethrone ourselves from the center of our world. We have failed to live up to this ideal.”

Dialogue is a current buzzword, but there is little genuine dialogue going on. Were we to revisit the principles of Socratic debate, where there is a cooperative, nuanced exploration between individuals to draw out ideas and underlying presuppositions, prejudices and, yes, even falsehoods, perhaps we might better understand each other.

To me, the best part of that process is, before stating your own case, one must repeat what the other has said. This gives the other party the understanding that they are being listened to. The roles then are reversed, and the debate continues to the point where we question and examine our own opinions and come to better understand the position held by the other.

A truly Socratic dialogue must be conducted with gentleness and without malice. It is a joint effort to obtain new understanding. By learning to inhabit each other’s point of view with honesty and generosity, participants are taken beyond themselves, very often realizing that they lack wisdom and long for it. They very often become aware that they are not who they ought to be.

My hope is that if I, as well as those around me, can humbly better understand our failings in this regard, we can all grow and become more enlightened, to everyone’s mutual benefit — no matter who happens to be president.

Jon Dick is a local resident and architect. His firm is Archaeo Architects.

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