People who write for a living must be sensitive to the culture and their social/political/economic environment. Columnists, bloggers, and writers of both fiction and nonfiction books must constantly think more deeply than others about the conditions of human life.
They explore root causes. Historical precedents to modern problems, and metaphorical explanations that resonate with people who live their lives day to day.
Our best religious leaders do the same as they prepare sermons, occasional homilies, or reflections.
Courageous writers often introduce ideas and perspectives that transcend ordinary trends and opinions. Moving beyond conversation based on popular biases or political invective. Offering observations that examine issues from a different perspective, not founded on the either/or way of communicating so prevalent today.
My TV news source is often the PBS Newshour. A Friday feature of that program is an interview with David Brooks and Jonathan Capehart. Brooks is a columnist with the New York Times and Capehart with the Washington Post. Mark Shields preceded Capehart in that PBS role for over 30 years.
Both Brooks and Capehart have the ability and courage to present opinions others either avoid on purpose or are unable to come up with on their own.
While one is labeled “conservative” and the other “liberal,” they often find ways to coalesce their observations around a novel way of thinking. Those “novel” ways of thinking are not necessarily earth shattering, but simply accepting solutions that are not easy or superficial.
Unlike the one-liners and glib responses politicians are taught to use by media advisers. Causing those politicians, once in office, to act and vote in deference to those who support (or think they support) the simplistic answer to a complex problem.
On two contentious problems of our time, Brooks and Capehart agreed that the problems associated with abortion and gun violence deserve more than either/or political responses. I agree with them. Both problems are rooted in a dysfunctional social order.
Much the same is true about how we deal with crime and punishment. As the world’s largest democracy that still uses capital punishment and decades of incarceration to penalize serious violators of the law.
The either/or approach to abortion is pro-life or pro-choice. For gun violence the either/or solution is mental health screening or significant restrictions on gun sales and licensing.
For serious infractions of the law, the either/or penalty is death/lifelong imprisonment, or attempted remediation.
Brooks and Capehart, described as conservative and liberal in the shallow political sense, see solutions to serious issues through the lens of a more sensitive and relational society. Not a society with a scale that weighs everything in terms of evil or good. Us versus them.
Brooks and Capehart serve by thinking reflectively and creatively. By writing and sharing their ideas on PBS and other venues. Do they help solve the big issues of the day caused by partisan political rhetoric and invective? I am not sure, but every little effort helps.
Educators now believe the top of the learning hierarchy is creativity. Not evaluation or analysis as Benjamin Bloom once believed. The root of creativity is the ability to IDENTIFY or DISCERN a problem within a set of existing conditions. And figure out ways to solve it.
Even before we become interested in identifying or distinguishing, there must be curiosity or a feeling of wonderment.
One of my criticisms of American schools is that their curriculum gives students answers for which they have no questions.
Typically, what happens with students is training. Stimulus-response behaviors designed to work under certain conditions. If and when those conditions arise at some point in the future.
For public school students that “some point in the future” is typically Friday’s quiz. Or high stakes tests taken at the end of various phases of study.
Training is essentially stimulus-response. Valuable for those prepared to be proficient in performing something well. Like athletes, soldiers, and others who perform repetitive activities associated with technology, mechanics, construction, and basic services.
Training seems to have little to do with building curiosity or feelings of wonderment.
But again, the either/or way of thinking is problematic. I know many people who have been trained in a particular trade who are both creative and reflective. Also those filled with curiosity and wonderment who cannot repair a simple machine.
Training and cognitive reflection can be a tandem way of thinking and acting, with the inculcation of problem solving at its center.
Curiosity comes in all shapes and has no boundaries. Developing and building something like the James Webb telescope. Now opening the entire universe to us. Combined exquisite forms of training with an ongoing wonder. What can we learn if the machine works as we would like?
Curiosity is the cognitive button we push to open the portal into our intellect. And curiosity is best articulated in a phrase from George Bernard Shaw: “Some men see things as they are and ask why. Others dream things that never were and ask why not.”
Robert Kennedy paraphrased Shaw’s quote using more inclusive language: “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask ‘why not?’”.
Discernment is another potential function of curiosity or wonderment.
In secular terms, the ability to be discriminating or even cultivated is based on cultural values and good judgment or taste.
Christians use the word to mean being guided by spiritual understandings in day-to-day activities. The acknowledgement of God’s presence in our lives. Providing service to others in the way Christ taught us.
It does not just happen. It requires a kind of contemplation which results in healing our disquiet. Our inability to cope with the distressful circumstances of life.
I subscribe to both interpretations. The either/or dilemma is not involved. We humans were created with curiosity, creativity, and the ability to reflect. Like chewing gum while dribbling a ball, we can wonder why. Envision possibilities at the same time.
Those who can perform that feat better than others provide a valuable service.
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