Let us seek to understand

The Gospel readings from last Sunday and today are especially relevant in the current combative political climate.

From a week ago, the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time: “If you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment.” (Matthew 5:22)

And, from today, the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time: “I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:44-45)

Last week my brother, who lives in Virginia, emailed to several relatives and friends the text of his pastor’s latest sermon, which addressed the “hard hard hard” work of reconciliation with those who differ from us.

This all made me think about how to understand the liberal and conservative “sides” in our society. So I did a search on Google and found stories about social psychologist Jonathan Haidt. In 2012 Dr. Haidt published a book titled, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. I found articles about his findings, as well as TED Talks he delivered between 2008 and 2016.

His book, he writes, “is about why it’s hard for us to get along.” He hopes that the reader will gain “a new way to think about politics and religion, (which) are both expressions of our underlying moral psychology. An understanding of that psychology can help to bring people together.”

I have just started to read this book, and I look forward to its lessons. Bottom line: (sorry, I peeked at the last chapter) The next time we find ourselves with someone who has an opposing point of view, Dr. Haidt writes, find “a few points of commonality or in some other way establish a bit of trust.”

In other words, as Saint Francis prayed, “grant that I may not so much seek to be understood as to understand.”

Front cover of the 2013 paperback edition of Dr. Haidt’s book.

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