We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Failure to Communicate

President Obama signing the Affordable Care Act
The Obama Administration is generally criticized for failing to communicate adequately to the American public the benefits of the Affordable Care Act, also known as "Obamacare."  For that reason, supposedly, the public largely disapproves of it.  Perhaps.  Perhaps the administration has failed to publicize the good points of the act sufficiently, but this thesis about why so many reject the new healthcare law forgets an important fact about communication.  Effective communication requires listening as much as it does speaking, and the public is notably short on listening skills.  It is a fundamental weakness of not just our political culture that the public does not listen well.  That's why politicians have learned that they can best communicate their message in brief, blaring sound bites that turn complex issues into distorted caricatures of themselves.  My personal sense is that, whatever the failings of the administration, a large segment of the American public was not, is not, and will not be willing to listen.  They don't know how and are not inclined to learn how.

There is a crying need in our nation today for dialogue, for the spiritual discipline of listening humbly and speaking quietly—for sharing—with others who likely do not share our attitudes and perspectives.  And the ones who most need to learn the spiritual discipline of dialogue are the those who consider themselves the most religious.  As a rule in today's political culture, the more overtly religious a person is the less likely it is that she or he can listen.