I've been contemplating tolerance of different perspectives lately. I've had several conversations that addressed the lack of ideological diversity in most of the people we consider our closest friends. Like attracts like, and we seem to cluster that way, akin to the gravitational pull that holds together solar systems. We live in galaxies of little mirrors that reflect ourselves back to us. For example, few to none of my friends are Republicans or Creationists, and I wonder if it's a mistake to not cultivate those of different viewpoints, although I often feel the need to suppress aspects of myself as a means of keeping the peace when faced with interactions with people who are so very different. We tend to stick to our own kind, and rage against those who are not in the same mental space.
I feel the best when I am working from my heart-center, the part of me that feels most innate. However, if morality is part of our biology but is shaped by culture (see Stephen Pinker's article The Moral Instinct), what feels best to me might still be "wrong" in the largest sense. It's like Christian Fundamentalists--they believe they are acting from the "right" place. I stand diametrically opposed to them, but that feels "right" from my perspective. So, who is truly "right?" And how am I to deal with my rancor for those who, from my perspective, want to deny acceptance of who I am, or hold opinions that I deem irrational?
Captain Rational had a good bit to say on the topic:
"As for your quandary as to who is truly right, its not for us as individuals to decide. Over time this question will answer itself and until then any answer is simply an opinion. The most important thing is that you act accordance with your heart-center. Being true to yourself is the most efficient growth path. If you are always following or reacting to someone else's path, you will never be truly self-determined. As a result, your growth would always contingent on that of another. It's ok to listen to other people but ultimately you have to decide what is right for you. The fact that others do not agree with you is not a bad thing, it is simply a part of the interaction of ideas that, if done correctly, will eventually answer the question of who is truly right."
If that is true, and it does seem to me to be true, there is no sense swimming against a tide, expressing anger or resentment towards those who think differently. It's a waste of energy and time. I pursued this line of thought further with someone else who shared this analogy in the human body:
All of our cells came from a single cell, which divided into many different types of cells (white blood, neurons, platelets, etc.). These are like all of our points of view. Some of us are neurons and some of us are liver cells and neither of those things are the same any longer. But, because they share the same point of origin, and because together they comprise the entire human body (the system we exist in), they all belong and *must* exist for the survival of the organism as a whole. So, differing perspectives are not just to be tolerated, but are necessary to the functioning of our social machine.
This is the perspective that places things into context, and diffuses my irritation and frustration. This sense of all things being one is something that is both the stuff of religion and science. In Princeton over the weekend, I saw a memorial to the class of 1969 that quoted the lyrics to Joni Mitchell's song "Woodstock":
We are stardust
Billion year old carbon
We are golden
Caught in the devils bargain
And we've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden
To some semblance of a garden.
We are litterally made from the same atoms that comprise all material in the universe, and that material came from the stars. It seems that the 60s generation was on to something in their philosophy of free love and tolerance, but they lost it somewhere along the way, perhaps in the consumerist void that shifted our focus from our heart-center to our wallet-center. (I would also imagine that frequent drug use primarily served to cloud the mind and cause inertia.)
The question, for me, is how to consciously operate from one's heart-center at all times, even in the face of ideological opposition. How do we get back to that semblance of a garden? We must keep the conversation open. Staying whole may very well cause discomfort in others. It can inadvertently instigate altercations, violence and even death (which are certainly outcomes not to be wished for). But it also may serve to change minds or foster bonds or bring us back together. We must be who we are because anything else is not carbon, but a carbon copy of someone else's expression of themselves, which itself may very well be a copy. To quote Captain Rational yet again, "We owe it to the world to make people with "stupid" ideas feel at least a bit uncomfortable or they will never question those beliefs."