I listened to some of the eulogies at Senator John McCain’s funeral. It sounded like he was valued by his supporters, and political opponents, as an American patriot with a sense of duty to his country, but most of all someone who was prepared to reach out to others for the greater good. This from a man who spent five years as a Prisoner of War in Vietnam, enduring torture and long spells of isolation before his eventual release.
Henry Kissinger encapsulated this, when he spoke at the funeral:
“John McCain ‘s name became synonymous with an America that reached out to oblige the powerful to be loyal and give hope to the oppressed.
“John’s focus was on creating a better future. As a senator, he supported the restoration of relations with Vietnam, helped bring it about on a bipartisan basis in the Clinton administration and became one of the advocates of reconciliation with his enemy. Honour, it is an intangible quality, not obligatory. It has no code. It reflects an inward compulsion, free of self interest. It fulfils a cause, not a personal ambition. It represents what a society lives for beyond the necessities of the moment. Love makes life possible; honour and nobility. For john it was a way of life.”
Why does reaching out, though, seem so difficult?
Whether it’s a difference of opinion between two individuals, fallouts within a family, the rivalry that exists in football, varying religious beliefs, opposing political positions or thoughts on Brexit, it appears that confrontation is preferred to compromise.
Tweet that you love dogs and you will be swamped with pro-cat comments, and more than likely some added vitriol from anti-canine activists. Or for a bigger row, mention in Facebook that (insert name of football team) is better than (insert name of closest rivalling team). Sit back and watch the fireworks, but you’ll need a stiff constitution not to take offence at some of the replies.
I’m up for a debate on any topic, and open to hearing differing views from my own. Weighing up the pros and cons will help me understand the issue better, and either strengthen my original opinion, or alter it if the counter-position is convincing. I don’t think an automatic, stubborn resistance to change is healthy.
There is, however, an apparent reluctance for open and honest debate. Not surprising if you take time to consider what the “other side” might have to say. Being prepared to listen to an opponent is pounced on as a weakness to be exploited. So, rather than offer out a hand of friendship or understanding, it’s easier to continue pointing the finger at the “others” and tell them they are wrong. SHOUTING seems to help too.
That, however, will not resolve anything. The divisions will remain, and probably worsen the relationship further. If as much effort was made in reaching a shared position, as there is in holding ground, there may be progress that is good for all concerned.
Surely, that’s what we all want: a better place and time for us all, whether this is within a family, on the terraces, or in communities and wider society. This is more likely to come about through a meeting of minds than a dogged reliance on a fixed mindset, or engaging in a blame game.
The hardest part in getting to a shared understanding is to take the first step. Not a case of who blinks first, but who is big enough to make the first move.
I’ll leave you with this (you know I love my 80’s tunes):
Challenging preconceived ideas
Saying goodbye to long standing fears
Don’t crack up
Bend your brain
See both sides
Throw off your mental chains
Howard Jones, “New Song”