It has been 40 years since my father died. He was a small man, taking after his mother, but what he lacked in stature he made up for in an extraordinary amount of homespun wisdom. Unfortunately it, for the most part, was wasted on me during the time it would have been most beneficial. Like many of his generation, his formal education was short lived with most of what he knew resulting from paying attention to life. His “higher” education came from North Africa and Italy during the Second World War and years spent focusing on responsibility to his family and community. Now that I am at the age where remembering things my father told me seems to be easier than recalling the code for the garage door opener, the effect of my father’s little “pearls” has become clear.
Dad’s solutions, which were not taught but non-the-less caught, were quite simple, first; Do what works. If it doesn’t work, do something else. Secondly, none of us is better than any of us. What you say is who you are, so remember who you are. Finally, always do your best. Maybe it is the age thing but it seems to me in a world that has become increasingly polarized by ideologies that this basic common sense has been misplaced.
What if we did what works rather than doing nothing because we can’t agree on what works? The willingness to be flexible has been compromised by the gods of ideology. It’s good to have a sense of who you are and where you’ve come from. A tradition of thinking that ties us to who we have been and defines who we have become is a good thing. However, blind trust is just that, blind.
Tradition is faithfulness to the living ideas of the dead. Traditionalism is faithfulness to the dead ideas of the living. Tradition says, “How can we change and remain faithful to who we are?” Traditionalism says, “How can we stay the same at all costs?” The first is inclusive the second exclusive. It is many times characterized by subtleties, such as the ideology behind the statement; “You’re either for us or against us.” rather then, “If you’re not for us you’re against us.” The first statement sets up the 100% solution that if you don’t think and act as we do there is no other choice than to be “outside.” The second statement exposes the crack of flexibility and becomes the starting point of compromise rather than the ending point. The 100% solution is usually not the solution because it alienates rather than integrates.
Observation indicates that the world has become more one dimensional. People are categorized by one issue definitions. You can be conservative or liberal, business or labour, pro-security or privacy, tax or anti-tax, bigger government or smaller government but being a liberal businessperson that favours the idea of social equity is outside of many professed ideologies.
The result of the 100% solution is the fanaticism of polarization. Whether in government, religion, or personal affairs ideas have become more divergent, less tolerant, and more offensive in dealing with different opinions. The widely accepted idea that the purpose of confrontation is to discover common ground, which leads to relational compromise has fallen into disfavour.
The 100% solution has always had an effect on all levels of culture. Human history is full of the pendulum of tolerance and intolerance and this time is no different. It is time to reexamine some of the basic relational values that are central to all cultures, our common ground. It is the place and time to begin a civil discourse. The goal should be unified and not uniform. My father would say, “Sit down and think about it for a minute, none of us is better than any of us. Remember who you are and just do your best.”