"If you wish to know the truth, hold to no opinions for or against anything. To set up what you like against what you dislike is a disease of the mind." Verse from Hsin-hsinMing (Verses on the Faith-Mind) by Seng-ts'an, Third Zen Patriarch
I had long avoided broaching politics with my conservative friends and colleagues. However I finally mustered the courage and approached that hulking elephant in the room.
Paradox is jarring. We want to believe that truth is neatly ordered. Veritas, veritable rows with no crooks. But truth, like life, is messy, relative and variable. In truth, the crooked places abound.
The truth that confronted me as I made my way , cognitively compromised , past the MAGA Trump sign to Anne's house is that she is a very loving, conscientious and caring person - in direct contradiction to how I perceived her chosen leader. But perception is not always reality, and I needed to explore more.
Anne and I had forged a strong friendship as she,( a registered nurse ), and her spouse, Jim, (a physician), volunteered for surgical missions to Bangladesh to help the impoverished many times. I also admired Anne and Jim for being foster parents to numerous children (twenty six on last count).The two of them would bring babies a few days old from the hospital and foster from 4 months to several years. But now, as political tensions were at a post-impeachment fever pitch, I felt compelled to bring the subject up which we had long avoided.
"For debaters of equal ability, the way to find common ground is to really grapple with contentious issues," at the end, you'd still have diverging politics but you will have seen the weakness of some positions( yours and your opponents) and clarified others."
"Also like with sports competition, hubris and anger can make debate more challenging, interesting and entertaining. Be game! And embrace at the end!"
Well, Anne, we have known each other more than twenty years. We like each other and respect each other but we have different political ideals. Politics has never prevented us from collaborating on work we felt was right.
We do so much better, just helping people when we don't talk about those controversial topics! I like you as a friend and as a fellow mission worker and want to keep it that way.
Anne, you know the country is going through turmoil. It is polarized. Each side keeps talking across each other but never with each other, the chasm is widening .January 6thinsurrection was bad for the country. I want to understand you, Anne. In so many ways, our views on politics and religion appear to be at loggerheads.
Okay, if you insist, we will have this conversation. But please do not rile me up.
Ajmal: You may have heard of Jonathan Haidt (author of the Righteous Mind)? He analyzed moral principles among progressives and conservatives. He found that conservatives score much higher with respect to authority (God, country and piety), respect, loyalty, purity and sanctity as opposed to harm /care, fairness and reciprocity (Liberal view point). The liberals score higher for the last two principles. While conservatives espouse all of them, they particularly favor authority, respect, loyalty and sanctity. Would you agree with that?
Anne: He has hit the nail right on the head. But it's not that we favor authoritarian principles, but authority. We view all five equally. But, that is God's truth. Morality and ethics may be personal or written as a code, but you cannot put one moral precept at a higher pedestal than the other. We feel all of them are needed to survive as a nation.
Ajmal: Okay, let's start with fairness, "do no harm" and reciprocity. Is it not important to safeguard the rights of others as you profess your own fundamental right to survive and prosper?
Anne: I knew you have a soft heart but that is not enough. Do you know why Buddhism has never been one of the major religions of the world? It's because it is all heart and compassion. And even they ended up using force to assert themselves in Sri Lanka and in Myanmar (Militant Buddhism)
I know you love the Buddha's philosophy. Buddhism is all about fairness and no harm. Do you know why the Dalai Lama left Tibet .It's because the Chinese brutally persecuted the Buddhists? He was preaching nonviolence while his people were persecuted. The Dalai Lama is considered a Spiritual Leader and yet he has failed his own followers. Dalai Lama meditates and gives nice lectures all over the world, while his people suffer.
Ajmal: Anne, Buddhism does not equate with weakness! Outstanding qualities of Buddhism include discipline, rigor, strength and even fierceness of the Samurai. And a key tenet of Buddhism is the triad of right thinking, skillful means and right action which can include meeting force with force. The Dalai Lama has become one of the world's most revered, influential leaders while the China continues to Muslims and Buddhists.
Anne: Look at things the Moors did in Spain and the Mughals in India. What the Prophet Muhammad had to do to spread Islam. All these major religions and tribes were spread not by the principle of fairness, but by the five moral principles. Non violence as championed by Gandhi did not stop the violence in India and his own sad demise at the hands of an assassin was a testament to that.
Ajmal: Are you suggesting that in order to survive as a nation and to preserve your belief system, you are willing to negate "fairness, (do no) harm, and reciprocity"? And, the only way to survive is by way of authority, respect, loyalty, and piety? You do realize that there is a fine line between authority and being authoritarian? Between loyalty and blind faith? May I please remind you of what Book preaches: 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.( Exodus/Leviticus)' But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn him the other side.(Jesus)"
Anne: Touché! You brought on Jesus!
Islam came 600 years after Christianity. Yes, both Christianity and Islam have seen violence committed in the name of the faith. Jesus Christ cannot be taken literally today. How do you 'turn the other cheek" to a suicide bomber" or to an individual who thinks he will go to heaven by killing a "non-believer.
We do not live in an ideal world of love and peace. Extremism of all kinds is bad news. An extreme left winger could be an anarchist and an extreme right winger could be a fascist. You can't treat the bad guy nicely. You eliminate them or they will eliminate you.
Liberals in this country have lost faith, lost religion, and have lost respect for their own country. They are more likely to enable people in their habits instead of applying tough love. It does not help to be an apologist for the bad guys, just because we have committed wrong-doings ourselves. One cannot go into self-paralysis in remorse.
Ajmal: But is it right or necessary to alienate ourselves from the rest of the world, is it in our best interest to bully the rest of the world? Is it okay to deny climate change and global warming?
"Lost religion" of progressives and our "loss of respect" for the country? Progressives tend to be deeply spiritual beings. We love this country and have defended it with words and deeds.
It's not being an "apologist for bad guys' ' in acknowledging the history of American empire as well as the advancement of American democracy. We can recognize the full history of American involvement in regime change around the world -- for example, propping up corrupt dictators. We should learn from the history of humanity in all of its fallibility and not sweep the inconvenient truths about American history and empire under the rug.
A conscientious politician should be able to dissect a controversial issue and cite what aspects of it are true. It is not enough to be "politically correct".
Anne: Ajmal, the polarization in this country today is mostly due to the extreme individual liberties, without any sense of responsibilities. Yes, we have our own extreme groups (the Proud Boys) who have exacerbated matters. But we are a nation, and as a nation we have to think about ourselves first.
Anne continues: Do you know how long the Chinese have been manipulating the system for their benefits? Do you know how protective they are of their own industry and how there is no such thing as fair trade.
Our Western European friends carp about America but won't pay enough for their own defense. Seventy five years after the war, we still have soldiers in Europe. For years we used to prop up tin pot dictators. And democracy got a chance. We are back to dictators: in Turkey, Egypt, Brazil and Eastern Europe, and of course in Saudi Arabia. And if you cannot accept that reality you may not understand how the Saudi's can murder a dissident in its own Embassy.
Anne, I think we have to disagree with a lot of your pronouncements. And that we cannot develop agreements beneficial for all. The survival of the world depends on shared responsibility -- not "us against them."
We can empathize with the plight of those in need. We need to sit down and have conversations with those we disagree with.
"And, Anne, attributing the polarization in the country to the "individual liberties" advocated by the "extreme left" is not true. Liberals and conservatives were equally responsible.
How do you feel about the conservatives' hedging on the fact that there is such a thing as climate change? How do you explain their evading scientific facts?
The US ethos is epitomized by the Statue of Liberty and what it stands for. We should not build barriers against immigration. Immigration is the most sustaining part of what makes America continually great. It is a fact that our diversity is our strength.
Ajmal, I am dismayed by your na�veté. For years people around the world have taken advantage of our liberal policies. My forefathers came from Italy. They worked hard and made it in this country. We have never been against immigrants. But there is a difference between legal and illegal immigrants. We cannot have porous/open borders. If we allow economic migrants the whole of Central America will move across our southern border within days.
Immigration is only fair when it is legal. Don't you think it is unfair to those who follow legal guidelines to enter the country? We certainly want to ensure that the economic situation in Mexico and in other Central American countries is better for their people.
There has to be a regulated border. A sovereign state has a responsibility to do that. How can one monitor who is coming, who is legal with an open border.
Is it fair to continue birthright citizenship? I think not. For example, a rich family from Bangladesh flies over to the US has a baby here who automatically becomes an American citizen. In contrast, let's say a poor Honduran woman in advanced pregnancy risks her life and also that of the baby, to cross the border into the US, and in the process, may have a stillborn or the mother dies.
Anne, please understand that progressives are not advocating open borders and unregulated immigration! Progressives want compassion to have a role in this difficult dilemma of immigration. Progressive do not want building deportation centers which are identical to prison cells at Guantanamo.
Ajmal: The Supreme Court just over turned Roe vs Wade, and left it up to the state to deal with abortion rights. Why do you think it is alright to take away a mother's decision to have or not to have a baby? Do you deny it is the right of the mother to decide what is right for her body and her womb? There are conservatives who believe that it is wrong to have an abortion for any reason (including incest and rape).
Anne: I have fostered 25 babies and adopted one in my late 50s, here. I believe in the sanctity of life. I believe no one has the right to terminate a viable fetus: not the mother, nor the doctor. If you say that the mother has the ultimate right, what about her ultimate responsibility?
You come deeply immersed in the Eastern Philosophy which basically says that "Each human being is and should be responsible for the actions taken by him or her. You have mentioned the word "Karma" so many times. In other words, take responsibility for your action. It is not moral or ethical for a woman to conceive a baby and decide it is perfectly alright to do away with it.
No, I cannot agree to abortion on demand. That to me is sacrilegious. I do make allowance, though, for an abortion when the mother's life is acutely in danger. To me, the termination of a viable fetus is not only wrong; it is no less than murder.
I respect people who believe in the sanctity of life. I share that belief! But we can't use terms like "sacrilegious" when referring to laws in civil society. By what metrics and ethics can we unequivocally say, for example, that a 13-year old, who was raped by her father and does not want to bear the child, has lesser rights than those of a one month fetus?
Ajmal , This is unfair. You are placing an example which is an outlier at best. You are asserting it to unnerve me into compassion.
Ajmal: "I sincerely do not know of any American family who has invested so much time, effort, and love for us and for Bangladesh. When Jim talks about his many experiences in Bangladesh, his face lights up, he laughs and cries and becomes totally energized and emotional.
Ajmal: I was quite angry with Trump and what he continues to do. But was oblivious to the contention made from the other side. I may have failed to place myself in the shoes of the other person .I suddenly realized the strength and weakness of my own stance.
In theory I agree that there is such a thing as constructive anger. But more often than not, "anger breeds more anger and there is total lack of objectivity." And this is true on both sides.
At the end, the defeat of Trump vindicated some, if not all of Ajmal's assertions. And unquestionably, January 6th, cemented any doubt that the President was complicit in the insurrection. Not so, said Anne. Yes, I do believe there were many voting irregularities, and the fact that we did not accept the election results, prompted what happened on January 6th. But I do not believe in violence and I do not blame the former President for the violence. Each person is responsible for his own action.
Ajmal pointed out that progressives "should make a leap of faith to believe that the opposing side is not made of nitwits and screw balls." Of course Anne did not fit that description. He was referring to a hubris he sensed in progressives and I agreed that many of us harbor overt or covert arrogance.
To find common ground by the end of the process, the final question remains: Does Conservatism help to preserve time-honored, "tried and true" principles and best practices. Is progressivism the engine of innovation, advancement, humanitarianism? For America's survival as a nation, it needs both. This was self evident.
At the end, it appears that a fair and balanced stance would be the fodder needed for the nation. That each side, taking its own philosophical base as a religion in of itself, may cause more damage to the whole than something more worthwhile. Once one takes one's argument to be the gospel, one has not only lost, he or she has sown the seeds for a future discord.
Anne and Ajmal, has remained close friends , because they respect and love each other .But neither has given up their opinion or their philosophies. But there can be no doubt that both Ajmal and Anne do not take what each other say as being irrational or valueless. They continue to explore each other's intellect to find common ground.
The writer is a retired vascular surgeon residing in Virginia, USA