Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Requote of the day: a self-admonition

"There is but one thing of real value - to cultivate truth and justice, and to live without anger in the midst of lying and unjust men" - Marcus Aurelius

Yesterday I had a conversation with a person that I know to be a compassionate and caring individual, concerned with the suffering of others who is generous and willing to help others whenever possible. The subject of our discussion was New Orleans.

This person was just as angry, just as vitriolic, just as incensed as I. The only difference was that this individual's indignation was directed towards the city, state, and persons critical of the federal government.

Which served to remind me that the passion for which we support a position does not correlate to the accuracy of that position. Ultimately, the strongest argument or defense of a position must come from the strength of the facts supporting it, not the conviction of the person presenting it. I think sometimes we confuse our outrage with the strength of our argument, or worse, with moral clarity.

Anger is a destructive emotion, and too much of it eats the soul. Anger is a force of division, of disagreement, and alienation. Anger, in itself, is not a constructive force. Constructive solutions require compromise, and that necessitates civil discourse focusing not only on our differences, but also on what we share in common. We have seen in the last century where the road that anger focused on group differences leads.

It isn't wrong to feel strongly about something, nor to be outraged. But we must remember to temper our anger and remain tolerant because, as Robert Berdahl once said (as quoted in The Elements of Journalism - I told you I'd refer back to it frequently,) "Democracy is based on a fundamental compromise between the majority and the minority. Compromise, however, becomes impossible if every issue is raised to the level of a moral imperative."

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