Widgets Magazine

OPINIONS

Op-Ed: Open Letter to Political Leaders and the University Community

Martin Luther King Day and the recent shooting in Tucson call us to consider how we each contribute to peaceful political dialog in the U.S.  It appears that both shootings were the work of isolated individuals. Nevertheless, all spiritual traditions affirm that our own speech and actions can powerfully affect others for good or evil.

Every politician and political commentator holds a special trust for the welfare of all people, not just their supporters. We especially invite our political leaders and commentators to be mindful of how they help shape the political dialog in the U.S. Specifically:

1. To hold in your hearts even those who oppose you. Every person has valid hopes and fears, and you can sincerely wish them well even while opposing their policies.

2. To avoid inciting fear and hatred in your listeners by avoiding suggestions that your opponents are less honest, less intelligent, or less patriotic.

3. To spend time framing the issues not just as us/them and win/lose, but considering the possibility of win/win.

We realize that tactics which attack the honesty, intelligence, or patriotism of opponents often sway people in the short term. But every religion calls us to value the long term, where such tactics are corrosive to the well-being and trust of all people in the nation.

“We can contribute to the global community by treating our opponents with compassion, or diminish hope by dehumanizing our enemies. United, we can make any dream a reality.”

We call on the university community to aid positive political dialog in the U.S. Many here have deep knowledge of how to improve effective communication, increase empathic listening and compassion, nurture win/win negotiation, and build community. We encourage you to apply that knowledge to this high cause.

In the words of Dr. King, “We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear…Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.”

Michael Hagerty, Professor, UC Davis; Rebecca Nie, Masters Candidate, Co-president of Buddhist Community at Stanford; Rev. Scotty McLennan, Dean for Religious Life, Stanford University; Rabbi Patricia Karlin-Newmann, Senior Associate Dean for Religious Life, Stanford; Rev. Joanne Sanders, Associate Dean for Religious Life, Stanford

  • Lewis Marshall

    While I understand and have sympathy for the sentiment expressed here, I cannot agree with the principles laid out in this statement. Direct incitement of violence is, and always will be, antidemocratic, unproductive, and a danger to our democracy. That having been said, the principles laid out here would rule out some core political speech.

    ‎”1. To hold in your hearts even those who oppose you. Every person has valid hopes and fears, and you can sincerely wish them well even while opposing their policies.”

    Empathy with others is a fine thing. However the assumption that the hopes and fears expressed by all parties in American politics are valid is simply not supported by the facts of our time. We live in a time when fear of immigrants, particularly Muslims and Mexicans, is being exploited for political gain. Confronting demagoguery aggressively is not just a right, it is a responsibility.

    ‎”2. To avoid inciting fear and hatred in your listeners by avoiding suggestions that your opponents are less honest, less intelligent, or less patriotic.”

    Inciting fear and hatred should be avoided. However, questioning people’s honesty is a core part of challenging the political establishment. Questioning what it means to be an American and a patriot is important especially when both of those ideas have been perverted to mean support for the status quo and for war.

    “3. To spend time framing the issues not just as us/them and win/lose, but considering the possibility of win/win.”

    This would be perfectly fine if all of our politicians were honest actors. We live in an America where the influence of money on politics has become a vast corruption. When someone wants to give a subsidy to oil companies on the backs of American taxpayers, it’s not fair to meet them half-way. When someone gets payed for a vote with a political contribution, it’s not time to look for a win/win.

    The plain fact is, sometimes political disagreement does get heated and zealous and passionate. That passion is a good thing because it means people are engaged in advocating for their own interest, and for the interest of America.

    We must never let that zeal spill over into violent imagery or violent action. As much as argument is the life of democracy, violence is the death.