The concept of bridging divides has been much in my mind since the recent election. And yesterday, after the lengthiest exercise I have yet engaged in in trying to bridge divides — specifically, asking my brother- and sister-in-law why they voted as they did and being completely bewildered, bemused, and befuddled by their responses, based as they were in misinformation and utter conviction — I pessimistically decided that the divides are too vast: there are no bridges that can be built and we must just coexist, as Somerset Maugham wrote:
We seek pitifully to convey to others the treasures of our heart, but they have not the power to accept them, and so we go lonely, side by side but not together, unable to know our fellows and unknown by them.
But then I had the strangest dream last night. The telephone rang, and it was Ron Bernier, my old friend from college. Ron’s voice was faint but warm, and he had much to tell me. Since Ron has been dead for eight years, this was not surprising: we were trying to bridge the greatest divide there is.
I had trouble understanding what he was saying, but then we realized the problem. All his words contained my conversation in them. So we had to fix a template of these and subtract out my words: what was left was what he was trying to say.
We are pasting up a lot of French and Spanish documents these past several days, using the English as the base and then overlaying with the new language. Sometimes there are parts left over that don’t match up. So I get what reality underlies the dream. And I guess I could chalk up the dream to work overload and the generation of too many instances of using the document compare feature in Word.
Or maybe not. Maybe it’s actually quite a profound message. Maybe we need to stop listening to our own thoughts in the echo chambers of our news streams, our chats with friends; stop assuming we know what is being said to us because it matches up so precisely with the words in our head. Maybe we need to really listen hard, as I had to with Ron, really focus.
Will it help? I don’t know. But it’s all I have right now, so I intend to try to truly listen and to hear, filtering out my own prejudices and seeing what is left…