I used to believe friendly, sincere communication could bring people together, could overcome prejudice and misunderstanding to resolve our problems.
I was naive. Not everyone can truly communicate.
I have known people who want to understand each other, want to learn from each other, are willing to change their beliefs in response to new information. I love people like that. They teach me, learn from me, explore ideas with me, and give me hope. Such people have characters with strong doses of humility, curiosity, playfulness, and wonder. They remain interested in other people and new ideas, and want to learn more, believe they should grow beyond their present limits. They seek the truth.
Unfortunately, I have known too many people who do not seek the truth, who believe they already know the truth. To the self-righteous, other opinions can only be wrong or irrelevant, sometimes threats. These people think of themselves as pragmatic, as not wasting time in pointless self-questioning. They get things done. They make things happen. And in their satisfaction with their own beliefs, they repel the truth. As a result, the things they make happen are often the wrong things.
When I can reach out to people and communicate, it is because humanity feels to me like the first kind of person, the open-minded, the engaged, and I feel hope. When I cannot, humanity is feeling to me like the second kind, the closed-minded, the arrogant, and I despair.
As my friends and relatives know, there are many periods in my life when I do not return calls or emails, when I am silent. It is as though my presence in their lives ebbs and flows, as if I appear and disappear like a haunting. So, too, does my hope for humanity ebb and flow, my sense of hopeful purpose. Too often, as was the case in July and August of last year, disappointing attempts to communicate with people or prolonged exposure to closed-minded people trigger an ebb, erode my hope for us all, and I retreat back into silence.
I am a flawed person, but I do have some gifts that I want to put at the disposal of humanity. I want to engage with my species, to leave the world better than I found it, and I am willing to sacrifice my own interests to do so. The only thing I ask is that humanity inspire me to give myself to its cause, that my species be worthy of such sacrifice.
When I feel hopeful about us, when our future seems golden, my hope draws me out into laughter and song, into dialog with friends and family, into working for the common good.
At other times, only silence seems golden.