Continuing our series of posts on dealing with dialogue in hard cases and Robert Sternberg’s taxonomy of hate, we discuss below the “Story of Wisdom” pattern that Sternberg identified as an antidote to hate. “Stories of Wisdom” are narratives that emphasize interdependence, identification of a common good, acceptance and tolerance. They also focus forward, and emphasize “we”, avoiding the division into “us” and “them” that is seen in the narratives of Cold Hate.
When Michelle Bachelet was elected President of Chile, she led with a story of wisdom: “Because I was the victim of hatred, I have dedicated my life to reverse that hatred and turn it into understanding, tolerance, and – why not say it – into love.” Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address also followed the patterns of wisdom (“With malice toward none, with charity for all, . . .), as did Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.
President Obama’s recent speech in Tucson also followed these narrative patterns of wisdom. Consider how the following excerpts highlight what we have in common, invite change, and focus forward:
But at a time when our discourse had been sharply polarized – at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.
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But what we can’t do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another. As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.
Stories of wisdom acknowledge, accept, and confront the existence of hate, although they do so in an empathetic way. Stories of wisdom provide hope for change. And stories of wisdom stress concepts that are core to a cohesive sense of community – the concepts that all citizens matter and must be taken into account when determining the common good.
Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes is credited with observing that “The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size.” Stories of wisdom, when told well, present larger ideas and expand, without confrontation, the thinking patterns that underlie hate. While they may not immediately change any one person’s view, they provide a different path for thought and can accomplish significant change over time. Coherent and congruent stories of wisdom told by community leaders, or introduced into dialogues by facilitators, and absorbed by citizens, can prevent the seeds of hate from growing.