So That's What You Think
Editorial for Spring, 2018.
By Fr. Frank Freeman, SDB
Many people attempt to settle differences of opinion by force. They are angered by those who hold ideas that contradict their own, yet no person, no political, economic or religious faith is the repository of all the truth. Every thoughtful and long-held belief has something to contribute to the sum total of human knowledge. Great wisdom is often to be found in the most unlikely places.
The wise person does not shout out his disagreement in angry, hurtful tones. He states it clearly and quietly, because he has a lurking suspicion that perhaps he may be wrong after all, or at least, not wholly right. It seldom happens that there is not some truth, some grain of wisdom in the opposing viewpoint.
When we respect the viewpoint of others, we grow in stature and understanding. How often those who insist on their right to dissent, deny that very right to others. The truth is not revealed by the noise and hysteria of slogan-shouting mass demonstrations, as we have recently witnessed on our television sets, or the angry and intemperate individual disturbing the peace of the family, causing disruptions to schools, and tension among members of clubs and associations. The truth comes only through the process of serious thought and tolerant discussion.
On the world scene and on the national stage, there are indeed great differences of opinion. The unwise and self-interested feel threatened and resort to violence and dissension. In the end no one gains. How a nation, a church, a group or an individual handles a difference of opinion shows to all the degree of tolerance, understanding and civilization reached. In church history I have often wondered how many “heretics” were forced to dig into fixed positions because of confrontation rather than affirming discussion.
Over the last few weeks, we have heard the word ‘peace’ used many times. Peace in families, peace in our nation, and peace in the Middle East. The only problem is that the word has as many meanings as the individuals using it. There are those who believe that peace can be won by force or will just happen. Peace demands more than that. Surely it stands for a mental attitude which discounts differences for the common good. The greater emphasis we give to differences the more we are enslaved by them. We entrench ourselves in self-righteous attitudes, and the end result is conflict. When we are prepared to discount differences, we move towards people, becoming more understanding. Harmony not conflict is the result.
In interpersonal relationships, friendship and marriage, the ability to discount differences in character, to rise above irritating personality traits, creates understanding and tolerant sensitivity, thus cementing the bonds. The inability to do so breeds conflict, tension and dissolution.
In social groups, schools, factories and associations, discounting differences of race, creed, social status is all important if harmony is to reign and communities pacified. Some for sure will be found ready to highlight and exploit these differences as a road to power. Theirs is a path to selfishness and conflict, not a path to peace and harmony.
So peace starts with the mental attitude of individuals. “Peace is not made at council tables or by treaties: it is made in the hearts of men” (Herbert Hoover). Pope Paul VI once stated, “Peace demands a mentality and a spirit which, before turning to others, must first permeate the soul of him who deserves peace. Peace is first personal before it is social.”