COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | KATHRYN FEHRMAN

Common ground: There is no other

“The world is too small for anything but the truth, and too dangerous for anything but love.” — the Rev. Kirk Alan Kubicek, Sept. 25, 2011

About a year ago, NPR fired Juan Williams for telling the truth. (All right, yes, there were other reasons too.) But the important thing is that he had the courage to say he was afraid, and he took flak for it. I wrote about that event, and about Williams’ attempt at honesty. The article’s point was, “The first step to cure any psychological disease is to admit we have a problem. The only way that we will conquer our fears of each other and truly bring people together is to tell the truth about how we feel.”

In other words, the goal is to conquer our fears of each other. We need to mend. The method is to speak up, not be afraid to tell the truth about how we feel. And not be afraid to hear things from others that are initially uncomfortable. To conquer our illness (our division), we must face our problems squarely and talk about them, without defensiveness and without deceit.

Unfortunately, I was unclear enough for a few people affiliated with the Council on American-Islamic Relations to blog and proclaim that I am “Islamophobic,” contribute to “Islamophobia” and am, fundamentally, an idiot. Now, I don’t think I am “Islamophobic,” and I am quite sure I am a small and unimportant fish in a very big pond.

So coming under attack for being unclear about wanting people to conquer their fears and come together … well, it was a bit of a surprise, and possibly a waste of good energy. Nevertheless, I drew fire. In return, I again extend an olive branch. When it’s unfashionable to speak about bringing people together, we’re in a world of darkness. “You can’t beat away darkness with a stick. You have to turn on the lights.” — The Lubavitcher Rebbe

Two things are true about U.S. citizens and our ability to address the fears that arose from the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in 2001. First, we as a nation have developed a mass case of post-traumatic stress disorder, which has irrationally polarized people. Clinically, we have developed traditional maladjustment symptoms following an unusually distressing event.

Second, despite our post-traumatic stress disorder, we as a nation don’t want to cause others discomfort, so for the past 25 years we have painted ourselves beige with “politically correct” speech. Voicing our problems and fears somehow became impolite or worse; heaven forfend, it could result in hurt feelings. At a time when truth is crucial, this beige-ing of America results in half and hidden truths. And as the bumper sticker version of Gandhi’s theosophist proclamation goes, “There is no God higher than the truth.”

By failing to speak the truth, we allow exaggerated differences, misplaced fears, unexamined anger and misunderstanding to fester in the dark. Once we accept and share that we often misunderstand, and are maybe even afraid of each other, we shed light and can begin to heal.

When I pray with Christian and Muslim friends, we note how similar our prayers are. When a Muslim student brought me a book about the Prophet Muhammad, my eyes and heart were riveted by words like the prophet’s at his last Hajj, “O Mankind, your Lord is One, and you have but one father.” These are the words of the central Hebrew prayer (the sh’ma), and of Jesus, “That they may all be One; as thou father are in me, and I in thee.”

As paradoxical or unfashionable as it may sound at first, we might begin to release our mistrust and exercise our mercy by assuming our oneness. When we avoid speaking with each other honestly about our fears and hopes, we fail to fulfill the central precept of Muhammad, Jesus, Moses, Abraham and the father of all of these, Noah, and of the clay that became Adam (“Man”). There is only One. There is no other. We are fighting with our self. It’s time to talk of common ground.

Fehrman is a professor of legal skills at California Western School of Law.

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