Graduation season is upon us, and that comes with a lot of boring speeches and a few gems. My niece, Katie Adams, and my nephew, Stephen Black, both graduated from my alma mater, Brigham Young University, last week; Katie with a master's degree in accounting, and Stephen with a bachelor's degree in political science and statistics. At their graduation ceremony, speaker  Arthur C. Brooks gave one of those speeches that everyone should listen to--whether you're a new grad, or retired from the workforce.

Brooks says "If you pay attention to politics, or television or social media, God forbid, what do you see? You see recrimination, reproach, insults, sarcasm. You see leaders at the highest level of our country who bully and berate those with whom they disagree. You see families torn apart over political disagreements. You see political foes who treat each other as enemies."

This makes the world an unpleasant place to be, and Brooks says we need to step back and share more love and less contempt one for another. This bitterness isn't unique to one political party, so don't pat yourself on the back and say, "yes, but my side is right!" 

The country, Brooks says, has been described as angry, but that's not the case. Anger is not what causes the problem--and, in fact, there's no correlation between anger and unhappy marriages or divorce. "The problem, my friends,  is not anger, but contempt. In the words of the 19th-century philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer contempt is "the unsullied conviction of the worthlessness of another person."

That's the problem we face in the world right now. It's not that we're angry; it's that large groups of the population have contempt for one another. "America has developed a culture of contempt, a habit of seeing people who disagree with us as not merely incorrect or misguided but as worthless." Our polarization is higher than at any time since the Civil War.

What can we learn from this? And how can we fix it? Brooks gives this wise advice:

Some say we need to agree more, but that's wrong; disagreement is good because competition is good. It makes us sharp and strong whether in sports, politics, economics, or in the world of ideas. we don't need to disagree less, we need to disagree better. 

Other people say we need more civility. That's wrong too. Civility is a hopelessly low standard for us as Americans. Imagine I told you that my wife, Esther, and I are civil to each other. You'd say to get some counseling. If we're going to beat the problem of contempt, we're going to need something more radical than civility...we need love."

Love, Brooks points out, is about looking for good things for one another. 

This is a message we could all use. We don't want a country or businesses where we exclude people because they have different ideas. We need different ideas. We need to learn how to think through them, learn facts, and we need to change our minds when we learn something better.

Imagine how much better our political landscape could be if people talked about ideas instead of attacking the people who mention them. What if we all assumed that people with different ideas weren't automatically bad people and actually listened to one another?

Published on: May 4, 2019
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