Freethinking

Opening our hearts to strengthen democracy

For many years, I had a very rigid and ideological mindset. I filtered information through a partisan lens - all the better to entrench my beliefs and serve as rhetorical ammunition for political debates. I was focused on being “right” instead of listening to others. 

Though moving from that mindset is challenging, over time I have come to realize that clinging to ideology obscures truth and leads to a harmful closing of the mind that can blind us to the humanity of others.

This closed mindedness - often expressed through partisan talking points that debase the meaning of communication - weakens our democracy and pushes people away from political involvement. As a result, politics is increasingly dominated by fear and anger.

Fear and anger drive many to seek refuge in ideological echo chambers devoid of dissent. This contributes to a breakdown in our ability to focus on solving problems as we prioritize ideological purity over collaboration and compromise.

Clinging rigidly to ideology also creates the illusion that a complex world has simple answers and causes us to see those with differing views as enemies.

For our democracy to be renewed and strengthened, this negative and fear based mindset has to change. 

I believe changing it will require opening our hearts, as author Terry Tempest Williams writes:

“The human heart is the first home of democracy. It is where we embrace our questions. Can we be equitable? Can we be generous? Can we listen with our whole beings, not just our minds, and offer our attention rather than our opinions? And do we have enough resolve in our hearts to act courageously, relentlessly, without giving up--ever--trusting our fellow citizens to join with us in our determined pursuit of a living democracy?”

We are not used to hearing words like trust, equity, generosity and courage associated with politics. But let’s remember that politics is made up of individuals - and we all have the ability to be trustworthy, equitable, generous and courageous. The political system - often so easy to criticize - is a reflection of our internal state of mind. If we want to change politics, we can do so by cultivating change within ourselves.

This isn’t about trying to be perfect or throwing away our beliefs. It’s about being open to diverse perspectives and reaching out to people who see things differently than we do. It’s about listening with less judgment, to hear what led others to the beliefs and principles that guide them.

Through our unique life experiences, all of us have something important to contribute to our democracy - a contribution that goes beyond ideological or partisan labels.

If we can recognize this and begin to open our hearts to each other, we can begin to transform politics from a force that adds to fear and anger, to a force for good that contributes to healing and progress.

Spencer Fernando has been involved in politics at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels. He believes in a “live and let live” philosophy.

Published in Volume 69, Number 12 of The Uniter (November 19, 2014)

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