Wednesday, October 26, 2011 — Week of Proper 25, Year One
Alfred the Great, King of the West Saxons, 899
Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 990)
Psalms 119:49-72 (morning) // 49,  (evening)
We all have blind spots. But if you can’t see, how do you know what you are missing? How do you know what your own blind spots may be? We need friends who see differently from us to help us fill in what we are missing. We need to read things that are written by people who have a different perspective, or a conflicting perspective from ours. Whenever we can see through another’s eyes, we expand our field of vision.
Sometimes understanding another perspective is a corrective. I learn something, and I change. Sometimes it is only a tweak or a refinement of understanding. Sometimes it is repentance. I turn and go the other direction.
Sometimes understanding another perspective is confirming. I can see their underlying values and motivation; I can follow the logic of their thought; I can feel the satisfaction that their position gives to them. And I still disagree.
Because I write a lot and let that writing goes out into some fairly public venues, I am fortunate to be on the receiving end of some good “eye doctors.” There are those who see my blind spots and offer an expanded vision. What a gift.
Every once in a while, someone writes who is certain that I’m mostly blind. Sometimes those emails are just too toxic to invite dialogue. But sometimes they are an invitation as well as a challenge. I can reply in order to seek more clarity even as I offer to be more clear.
There is an insight from F. D. Maurice (d. 1872) that is helpful during conversations between two of us who are half-blind: “A man is most often right in what he affirms and wrong in what he denies.” If we can get past whatever it is we are denying about each other’s views and move into the the territory where we each state our values, I often find that we move much closer to one another. Sometimes I find that I have very similar values as one who seemed to be an opponent, we just come up with different strategies for accomplishing similar ends. That realization can calm some of the rhetoric.
Occasionally I will run across someone whose values and world-view simply seems contrary to that which I hold dear. We could talk or email until we turn blue, and we will still be at cross purposes. If we have a relationship, I find it is not to difficult to arrive at a place where we can agree to disagree. Actually, that can be a lot of fun. Now I know where to go when I’m perplexed. When I run across something that makes no sense to me, I can ask a friend who experiences life from a different paradigm, and that friend usually has seen something that I was blind to. I still may think that it makes no sense, but at least I can understand where they are coming from.
And every once in a while I engage in communication with someone, usually by email, when I become convinced that we are in a win/lose situation. If that person is right, and their opinion prevails, I am convinced that the world will be damaged. We’ve talked, and there is no prospect for compromise or reconciliation. Our values and our vision are fundamentally in conflict. I thought about those situations when I read in today’s gospel Isaiah’s prophecy that we hear in Jesus’ voice through Matthew: “You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn — and I would heal them,” says the prophet. Sometimes I have to go a step beyond agreeing to disagree. I have to say that they are wrong, and I must oppose them actively. Insofar as I can, I have to exercise whatever influence I may have to put boundaries around the damage that they might inflict. Even so, friendship, if it is present, can be sustained.
There are times when it is important to win and for another alternative to be defeated. I think it is important to recognize that territory. Yet, whenever I find myself there, I also have to accept that I continue to be near-sighted and occasionally downright blind. I have to be willing to be corrected. And, as Maurice reminds us, I’m most constructive when I am framing my vision in terms of values and affirmations rather than what I’m against.