In the March 31st New York Times op-ed section, columnist Bret Stephens published a courageous open letter to right-wing provocateur and journalist Kevin Williamson. The two writers often disagree politically and socially. Yet here, Stephens offers a bold invitation to us all to consider the whole body of someone’s work – indeed, the whole of what they bring to the world – before judging them based on an isolated statement or opinion. It’s all about discernment before criticism and healing the societal divide.
I am not writing in support of Kevin Williamson or in criticism. I am not writing to rationalize or excuse anyone’s behaviors, actions, or opinions. I am writing in support of curiosity and discernment before jumping to judgment and attack.
From time to time throughout my life, I have made statements or held opinions that I then reconsidered later. I have learned, grown, and evolved in my 63 years, and so have my thoughts, opinions, choices, and actions. I would not like to be labeled or categorized by a single statement or act. I doubt that you would either.
Yet as a society, this has become the norm. It does not serve us. It only divides us, creating more polarization.
We can turn this around. It will take clear intention, focus, and diligent practice, yet it can be done. And it starts with each one of us individually. Here’s how we can begin.
We can practice looking at the whole of a person and the whole of a situation before drawing quick conclusions and issuing self-righteous moral condemnation.
We can practice restraint, reserve judgment, be curious, and open our hearts and minds to learn more about the whole of a person or situation before thoughtlessly jumping onto a particular political or moral thought bandwagon.
We can humbly consider our own past choices, opinions, and actions, and acknowledge the ways in which, in fact, our own opinions and understanding have evolved over time. We can recognize that we sometimes make different choices today than we might have made in the past because our perspective has shifted. And we can practice expanding our awareness and worldviews as life goes on.
Finally, we can offer these same considerations and possibilities to others, giving them the space to learn and grow just as we are.
Life is full of contradictions. We all have thoughts and opinions that sometimes conflict with one another. We all have moments that require choosing one value over another. Life is complex.
Towards the end of his letter, Stephens sums up his thoughts with this line: Let he who is without a bad tweet, a crap sentence or even a deplorable opinion cast the first stone.
Our society is fractured. Healing has to start somewhere. This could be one place to begin.