Be careful what you wish for, especially when you’re “c-scum.” You’ll likely get it.
C-scum, a term I learned from a dear friend, is when you are in boarding group C on a Southwest Airlines flight. You board last and you’re destined for a middle seat. During a recent c-scummy episode, I ended up having a long-wanted wish granted. Yet this was no fairy tale ending, this ended up being hard work.
I’ve been yearning a great deal for people to start talking — civilly — again to those with whom we disagree. Mother Teresa once summed up my reasoning, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
However, as I-as-a-C-scum boarded the plane this fateful day, the civil-discourse thought was not on my mind; I was simply excited an exit row was still available.
I leapt to my seat and settled in, giddy about the extra leg room. But before the plane had even ascended to cruising altitude, I discovered I was sandwiched between two people with whom I vehemently disagreed about certain matters. On one side, a gentleman told me that California needed to dam up all the water the state was wasting by letting it flow to the ocean. The other gentleman said what ails the world is that a lot of people don’t want to work and instead want to depend on welfare. I was trapped.
I fought the urge to demur quietly and slip on headphones. Instead I took a few deep breaths, listened to them, then shared my thoughts and counterpoints. All of us had the courage to disagree with each other, strongly at times, and yet the conversation was incredibly respectful.
The call for civilized conversation was made here in this space in our December edition by Moonshine reporter Sage Sauerbrey. I’d like to add something to the conversation.
Alongside listening to opposing views, I challenge myself to really feel them. Understand where they are coming from, see if I can almost hold the belief myself. The idea is akin to a concept I read about in the book Stealing Fire. The authors highlight a study by Roger Martin of the University of Toronto Rotman School of Management, which studied exceptional leaders in a variety of fields. Martin “discovered that their ability to find solutions required holding conflicting perspectives and using that friction to synthesize a new idea.”
The art of thoughtful discussion is endangered, leading to a perpetual locking of horns — nationally, locally, and even within families and friendships. But now more than ever we need to work together. Our challenges as a species are ever greater and more complex.
“The ability to face constructively the tension of opposing ideas,” wrote Martin in his book, The Opposable Mind “ … is the only way to address this kind of complexity.”
This “opposable mind” isn’t easy but you can practice holding divergent ideas every day. You can detest the ski traffic but appreciate that many other people love the area as much as you do. Shake your fist at this year’s tax bill, see p. 16, but remember what services would disappear without them. Grumble about losing the right to a backyard campfire, p. 15, but be grateful people are taking action to keep us safe. Believe that from devastating grief can rise beautiful legacies, p. 34.
At the very least, while you’re practicing your opposable mind, your plane flight will fly by.