I’ve followed Robert Wright’s writings for many years, since stumbling upon his book Three Scientists and Their Gods nearly 25 years ago. At the beginning of 2012 he started blogging for The Atlantic website, but after a year has decided to bring that project to a close. In his farewell post, he states three fundamental beliefs about foreign policy, the first being this:
The world’s biggest single problem is the failure of people or groups to look at things from the point of view of other people or groups–i.e. to put themselves in the shoes of "the other."
I’m not talking about empathy in the sense of literally sharing people’s emotions–feeling their pain, etc. I’m just talking about the ability to comprehend and appreciate the perspective of the other. So, for Americans, that might mean grasping that if you lived in a country occupied by American troops, or visited by American drone strikes, you might not share the assumption of many Americans that these deployments of force are well-intentioned and for the greater good. You might even get bitterly resentful. You might even start hating America.
This is not just a foreign policy problem, this is the problem of our age. It’s one I’m especially sensitive to, because my conversion to Christianity was critically preceded by the sudden insight while reading C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity that, agree with it or not, Christianity made sense. Until then I had dismissed it as senseless, and as a result hadn’t been able to hear a thing it was trying to tell me.
Lots of other things make sense as well, regardless of whether they are right or wrong or some mixture of the two. Robert Wright is a good example, being a meticulous and irenic advocate for a point of view I mostly don’t accept (virtuous paganism). But I understand where he’s coming from, and am always edified when I hear what he has to say—as long as I hear it in the proper context.
The world would be a much different, much better place if we would all cultivate the ability to say, “I see how you might think that.”