Doubt and Civility like Coffee and Cream

Hand Pouring Cream into Coffee Cup

This post is born from this mornings read by one of the most empathetic intellectual thinkers in America:

David Blankenhorn is the President of the Institute for American Values who has long been an advocate against same-sex marriage. He has recently changed his mind, which surprisingly, has no bearing on my positive feelings towards him. Influential gay writer and one of the first proponents of marriage equality, Andrew Sullivan, wrote,

“He is perhaps the most clearly decent, intellectually honest, non-homophobic opponent of marriage equality.”

On his blog, Blankenhorn wrote a piece that is one of the most redemptive efforts towards reconciliation. Titled Doubt, Sweet Doubt, the content surrounds the necessity of uncertainty. It is about why doubt and civility are so intertwined with one another. Why there is no reason for disagreements to become disagreeable when there is an acknowledgment of our inability to be certain. This is such a breath of fresh air in every political and theological conflict that occurs today. It is healing and harmonious. Redemptive. Reconciliation-centric. He is tackling something that we all know too well, but never discuss.

This excerpt isn’t packed with an emotional punch, he’s an intellectual after all. But follow the link at the bottom to see the video that shows the beauty of bonding despite disagreements.

I won’t steal any more of his thunder, here’s an excerpt and a link to the full post:

“But at bottom it seems to me that, for the certain person – the person who is typically confident that he or she knows the truth of the matter – civility is mostly a question of good manners, or of moral correctness, perhaps also mixed in with the strategic recognition that demonstrating civility is tactically helpful as one seeks to persuade others of the true position.  In other words, for the certain person, civility tends to be behavior that is largely (though perhaps not entirely) selfless, essentially a matter of correct conduct and good deportment.

 

But for the doubting person – the person who is typically uncertain that he or she is right – civility is still correct deportment, but it’s also far more.  For the doubting person, civility is like oxygen.  It’s personally necessary.  Why?  Because without it, I can’t get what I need.

 

What I need as a doubting person is the wisdom of the other.  I need what the other has to offer, to correct my own acknowledged noetic shortcomings and to help my own views (which I know are always partial, we see in a glass darkly) become truer views.  As a doubting person, civility is more than being nice.  Civility is part of what allows me to eat what I must eat and drink what I must drink.

 

So that’s why I say that doubt and civility go together naturally.  But if you’ll indulge me, let me say a bit more, in praise of doubt. I’m 57, and I used to know much more than I do now.  As I get older, I find that I grow in doubt, and I’m grateful for that.  Intellectually, I depend on doubt.  Doubt is my friend.  I don’t mean that I’ve stopped having beliefs, or stopped being passionate about those beliefs; it’s just that I’m more and more certain, when it comes to the free life of the mind, of the importance of uncertainty.”  (Bold Emphasis Mine)

When we acknowledge that our convictions may be incorrect, we inevitably need the relationship of the other. We need the friendship. We need empathy to explore what life looks like in the other’s shoes. We require their company.

In discussing his relationship with marriage equality advocate Jonathan Rauch, especially while he was still opposed to gay marriage, he speaks to how intellectuals dismiss friendships and experiences as subjective, irrelevant and unreliable in the formation of convictions. But, the error that Blankenhorn points out is that when we sit in our studies drawing out theories of belief about the other’s positions, we build “barriers to belief”. In other words, we become creators of caricatures.

If you want to watch more of this reconciliation in color, here’s a video of his sit down with Jonathan Rauch, on Krista Tippet’s website, On Being.

RR

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One thought on “Doubt and Civility like Coffee and Cream

  1. Pingback: A Good Storm « Registered Runaway

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