In a couple of my Socrates Cafe podcasts of late, I’ve had guests, admirable souls, a big part of whose life work is aimed at enabling and empowering us to become better citizens, to give us the tools to become more involved and engaged and make a difference.
But when I ask these well-intentioned folks if this means they are also reaching out to supporters of Trump, all of a sudden there is hemming and hawing. Even the remote possibility that Trump supporters (but also supporters of Third Party candidates) might’ve had decent or good or great reason for voting as they did is unacceptable, even unconscionable.
Nor will entertain the prospect that voting for the other major candidate presented its own host of hugely intractable dilemmas. To them, the choice was clear, and the idea is to galvanize a certain group that sees things more or less the same way they do, rather than in anyway to reach out and bridge chasms with those they refer to as ‘the other.’
And there’s the rub.
Such people reject the truth that none of us is ever wholly correct in our views.
To those who firmly believe they are ‘right,’ the prospect that they might not have a monopoly on truth is not something that’s a consideration in their weltenschauungj. [Witness the most earnest efforts of late at ‘civics education,’ and how it almost always emanates from a decidedly and rigidly leftist or rightist bent, and rarely admits of degrees (and never includes children and youth as equal partners), and never questions in a foundational way whether the republic we have today has long been frozen and is out of whack with what our Framers had in mind.]
It’s more important than ever to recognize that we all have biases in our perspectives. But those who do not are prone to characterize those who differ deeply with them at least on this one matter as ‘the other.’
We will simply never bridge these yawning political divides.
Until and unless we first build philosophical bridges.
To do that, we need to inquire together at times ‘the Socrates Cafe way‘ (or some kindred way), and on a regular basis at that. We need frequently to gather with those who see things quite differently than we do — or ostensibly seem to — and immerse ourselves in a method that is rigorous yet accessible as we explore timely and timeless philosophical questions and conundrums that enable and inspire us to bind ourselves together.
That enable and inspire us to do this on our own, without nudging or prompting or proselytizing from others — and as a consequence, to realize that there is no such thing as ‘the other’ (or at the very least, we need to recognize with honesty that each of us has many ‘others’ within our own selves, dueling natures, bundles of contradictions that we need to bring into resolve before we even begin to consider others as ‘other’).
And we need to inquire using a method — what I’ll call now the “Socrates Cafe method,” to differentiate it from other supposed versions that claim the title ‘Socratic Method’ but that in reality foment debate, argument/counter-argument, can be highly directive and actually contain little if any method at all (but, rather, restrictive protocol, to make us ‘behave’, be ‘civil’.
The Socrates Cafe Method and its kindred counterparts lends itself to bridging the divides that exist between one human and another. Perhaps never completely, but ever more so.
Because, in the course of these rich inquiries, if facilitated rightly and well, and engaged in with all one’s being, we discover further our shared hopes and dreams and aspirations and fears, and the underlying philosophies on which they are based, and which serve as the ties that bind us.
We discover ‘uncommon common ground.’ We discover love or at least deep caring for one another (hence I called Socrates Cafes “love-ins” in my Socrates in Love. We discover we can never be all we can be unless we also do all we can to make it possible for others do the same — what the Greeks of old would call arete and which I expound on my books, especially Six Questions of Socrates.
Don’t believe me? Go to a Socrates Cafe, there’s hundreds of ’em the world over, some in existence for as long as twenty years, a goodly number still starting up recently. And after the dialogue comes to an end, Socrates Cafe-goers often then linger, and get a bite to eat, continuing their bridge-building.
Human encounter of the most wondrous kind, among the most unlikely bedfellows. Unlikely, that is, until they discover that though they might have different political preferences (in which there are such not great, or even rotten-ish, choices — more about that some other time), they have a remarkable amount in common at a more foundational level.
For instance, once, when I facilitated a Socrates Cafe in Long Island on the question, “What is a just war?” it was quite an eye-opener to see how people who were perhaps at political odds professed quite similar philosophies of what a just war is or amounts to — their main differences were the specific instances in which they felt a war or incursion or conflict was ‘just’, but the philosophies expressed were arrestingly similar and in some cases identical.
If we’d had, instead, what is billed as a ‘civil discourse’ on a question like, ‘Should American troops be involved in the Syrian conflict?”, it would have devolved into a lot of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and ‘here’s why’ responses, and never the twain among differing humans shall meet (even though they might be on their p’s and q’s, determined and charged with being ‘civil’ and hence being on their best behavior.)
What this kind of human encounter the Socrates Cafe way does is it forges foundational common ground, makes it possible for people to discover on their own in impassioned, reasoned, imaginative, empathetic, immersive exploration that they’re not that different after all — and this in turn propels them to be far more open to creative and inclusive problem-solving in which each is willing to….not compromise so much as attain a higher ground together, incorporating the thoughts of many.
In doing so, they are in keeping with the philosophy of Thomas Jefferson, who asserted
But we are also in keeping with the African concept of ubuntu, which I write about at considerable length in Socrates in Love, and which loosely but legitimately translates as ‘I am in you, and you are in me, and there is no I without first a we.’
By this conception, there is no I, no you, no other — without first a we. In order for us to even agree somewhat on what an ‘I’ or ‘you’ or ‘other’ is or might be, ‘we’ first have to come to some sort of meeting of the minds about these rich and value-laden and ever-evolving (or devolving) concepts.
Not only does Socrates Cafe hinge on ubuntu or some similar notion, I came to realize after my visit to Soweto all those years back (and which I recently wrote about.) — but so does humanity, and its future.
It’s what enables us to tear down the divides of politics and build bridges of compassion and concern.