By Jeanette Arnquist
There were once two brothers who lived in a small mining town. In fact, they were my uncles. They did many things together, like go prospecting, fishing, hunting, and just hanging out. They were actually best friends. At one time they each adopted a puppy from the same litter.
One uncle was a miser, to put it bluntly. He made every nickel squeak twice before he let go of it. He lived in a very modest house and pretty much didn’t do anything that cost very much money. He wanted people to think that he was worse off than he actually was.
The other uncle liked to throw money around, and he liked people to see him do it. He liked to have a new car and a new truck every couple of years. He wanted to make it appear that he was better off than he actually was.
The uncles succeeded in finding some rich deposits of minerals and they leased the mineral rights to mining companies and got some pretty nice checks, so they were both actually quite comfortable but not rich.
The uncles thought a lot alike about most things, but not everything. One always bought Dodges, the other Fords. One was Republican, the other a Democrat. And they were different about the dogs. The miserly uncle underfed his dog so that she was severely undernourished. The other uncle overfed his dog to the point that she became obese.
The uncles knew exactly what was wrong with each other. They clearly saw the errors that the other made and they were quite willing to talk about it. Each one thought his brother was being stupid or crazy and was not afraid to tell his brother and anyone else who would listen. When one uncle was criticized for feeding the dog too much, he fed the dog more. When the other was criticized for feeding the dog too little, he fed the dog less.
But they could not see their own mistakes or faults. And they could not actually have the conversation that might have changed the course of the dogs’ lives.
This didn’t end well for the dogs. They both failed to be the kind of companion that their owners wanted because they were too unhealthy. The dogs died early deaths.
At this time in the United States people are as polarized about the issues of the day as my uncles were about the feeding of the dogs. We seem to like to look at issues as if there were only two possible points of view available. We seem to be convinced that our own way of thinking is right, and then, of course, anyone who thinks differently is wrong, stupid or evil.
Thomas Merton wrote “We never see the one truth that would help us begin to solve our ethical and political problems: that we are all more or less wrong, that we are all at fault, all limited and obstructed by our mixed motives, our self-deception, our greed, our self-righteousness and our tendency to aggression and hypocrisy.” (New Seeds of Contemplation)
Like my uncles, we like to be right. Sometimes we persist in a belief or course of action because we can’t admit to ourselves that we are fallible. We can’t admit that our own point of view might be clouded. We can’t admit that our brother or sister might have a valid point of view.
As people committed to the Gospel, we are called to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” In his latest encyclical Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis reminds us that we are all brothers and sisters. We are called to work in mutual service to promote the common good.
Let us pray and work to get beyond our own egos. Demonizing, name calling and insulting people who hold different beliefs is not helpful to anyone. Winning a debate is winning a competition. Debate will never bring the kind of wisdom that is needed in our world today. Love is the only answer. Only mutual respect for our brothers and sisters, and dialogue with them can enable us to move forward.
Jeanette Arnquist is a former Director of the Department of Life, Dignity & Justice for the Diocese of San Bernardino. She is retired and living in Tuscon, Arizona where she remains active in social concerns ministries.