Rarely has our country been as polarized and angry as it is today. On television, in newspapers, on social media, around the office water cooler, in line at the supermarket, even at the family dinner table, there is constant clashing and creating of divisions. Warring political parties, “special interest” groups competing for social change, and an ever-growing collection of labels — liberal, conservative, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, evangelical, etcetera — divide people more than bring them together.
Magnified by ubiquitous technology and a 24-hour news cycle, entities of all sizes and persuasions routinely bombard us with their positions, beliefs, even whole value systems that they want us to subscribe to. In this crock pot of conflicting ideas and ideology, John Steinbeck, one of America’s greatest writers and keenest observers of the human condition, can help.
Midway through his novel “In Dubious Battle,” published in 1936, in a passage worthy of one of history’s greatest thinkers — a passage I submit provides an outlook on life that, if adopted, could alleviate much of the rancor in America — Doc, one of the book’s main characters, says: “That’s why I don’t like to talk very often. Listen to me, Mac. My senses aren’t above reproach, but they’re all I have. I want to see the whole picture — as nearly as I can. I don’t want to put on the blinders of ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ and limit my vision. If I use the term ‘good’ on a thing I’d lose my license to inspect it, because there might be bad in it. Don’t you see? I want to be able to look at the whole thing.”
Eschewing the human but particularly American impulse to immediately classify, pigeonhole, prejudge, discount and disparage ideas — and the people who believe them — Doc prescribes, as Steinbeck would if he were still alive,…