Do you want things to change? Are you agitated or frustrated or just plain bored with the civic conversation in your community and the country at large?
I am. And I’m
going to do something about it. I’m going to take a blockhead
We keep hearing that civic life these days is
deeply polarized, and it is. Why is that? Because we fundamentally
disagree on the basic issues, or because we’ve let shouting,
blaming and scapegoating become the way we do politics? Is it
because our beliefs clash at the very core, or because the frenzy
and fear purveyed by our crassest media and worst politicians have
made us desperate for a set of beliefs and like-minded people to
cling to, however incomplete or flawed they may be?
Probably some of both, and maybe more. But since most of the
current ideological and philosophical debate (if what we’ve
been doing deserves a word that polite) is a proven dead end,
perhaps it’s time we started looking harder for little cracks
in the wall where a ray of light might shine through. What if,
instead of battling opinion with opinion and trying to beat back
their dogma with our dogma, we spent some time probing beneath the
dogma? What if we listened to the music instead of just the words?
I hereby declare May to be Take a Blockhead to Lunch
Month. Participation is easy. As soon as you finish this column,
take a moment to think of someone you know who cares about
what’s happening in the world, and whose opinions differ
sharply from yours. Those opinions can be about anything: President
George Bush, the war in Iraq, immigration, evolution, abortion,
educational testing, Hillary Clinton — pick your flash point.
Then call him or her to announce that it’s Take a
Blockhead to Lunch Month and that he’s the lucky blockhead
you’ve chosen; if you think there may be a more diplomatic
way to phrase the invitation, have at it. Then go get lunch
together, or breakfast, dinner, coffee, tea, a beer. After
you’ve ordered and settled in, ask your dining partner
plainly and respectfully what she thinks or feels about issues that
seem to divide you.
There are just a couple of rules.
One: You have to ask real questions, not simply spout off opinions
with question marks stuck onto the end. We all know how that works.
Despite what we learned in high school grammar classes, sentences
beginning with "Oh, come on now, do you actually believe ..."
don’t qualify as questions.
Two: Throughout the
course of the conversation, aim to listen at least four times more
than you talk. Use your talking time to ask more questions. Your
goal is to better understand what your blockhead means, and exactly
how her peculiar opinions were formed.
If what he says
pushes your buttons, and if you’re busting to answer back
— and if you’re a person inclined to do this exercise
at all, you probably will be — stretch yourself to listen
even more. (If you are any good at doing this, I’d personally
appreciate some helpful tips.) If you’re just dying to
express your own opinions, you might ask your blockhead if you can
be his or her blockhead. Then it will be your turn to be taken to
lunch, and you can reverse roles.
The worst that will
happen is that you’ll find out you were right: Your lunch
partner really is a complete blockhead who must be living on
Then again, you might be deeply
surprised. You might catch a lasting insight that you can’t
even imagine right now. And who knows what could that lead to? You
might even be encouraged to try this again, and find a second
blockhead to take to lunch. That should be easy. There are plenty
of us out here. We’re all in a learning process. Please let
us know how your conversation went at blockheadtolunch.com. Thanks.