It's a red vs. blue America, if you believe the polls, the commentators, and the campaign ads. The country seems to be locked in a furious battle of party vs. party, partisan vs. partisan, across a wide range of political and social issues.
However, an eight-part series ending today on the Monitor's op-ed pages, "Talking with the Enemy," reveals a wide range of alternatives. It offers strong proof that constructive dialogue is practical and powerful, and that it doesn't mean surrendering your principles. And, most important, that it's a choice every one of us can make.
Last week, I turned to prayer to reinforce my own commitment to this important choice.
I began praying as I usually do - by centering my thoughts on what God is. God is love, the Bible says, and in a time like this, that seemed like the perfect place to start. I thought about God as Love with a capital L - and therefore about Love as being infinite, being all power, the only power, all in all.
It's an interesting mental exercise to push thought beyond material boundaries and imagine Love as infinite. I reasoned that if Love is all, filling all space, then everything that exists is Love and its various manifestations. And there's nothing else.
Hmm. If Love is all, I wondered, what does it love? It almost sounds like a Sunday school riddle. If Love is all, then Love and its various expressions are all there is to see - and Love must be seeing it all, and loving it.
What it loves, I reasoned, must be the good in it. Love itself defines this good, and good is the universal attribute of all God's work.
In the first chapter of Genesis, the Bible shows God doing exactly that. Day by day, He makes heaven and earth and every creature, and day by day He sees that it's good. On the sixth day, He finishes. He looks at everything He has done, and declares it very good. Naturally, divine Love loves the goodness it expresses.
OK, I thought, so what does this mean about each of us? Well, Genesis 1 addresses that, too. It says God made man, both male and female, in His own image and likeness.
So God's creation is the mirror image of God. And since God, Love, is forever loving good, then we, His creation, must always be loving good, too.
With that thought, I almost laughed out loud - sometimes prayer is the discovery of the obvious. Who doesn't love good? Who doesn't prefer it, seek it, want more of it? Everybody does.
It occurred to me that this may in fact be the most universal truth that can be observed in humanity, across all cultures, societies, places, and times. Everyone, all the time, loves and wants good. It's what we have in common.
In that light, today's bitter public clashes of opinion don't look so intimidating. On all sides of every issue, the participants only want what they see as good, no matter how loudly they're shouting. The differences - although they can be extreme - lie in what each perceives to be good.
The current Monitor series shows many ways to stop shouting and start examining those differing perceptions of good. It can be as simple as saying, "That's interesting. Why do you think that?" ("At heart of good political discussion: the idea," Oct. 20).
Knowing that at the deepest level your apparent adversary wants the best - as you do, because both of you reflect God's love of good - helps open the way.
It helps even more to acknowledge that God, Love, is filling all space with good. This spiritual truth dissolves the human fear that we're all contending for limited amounts of good - and that if someone else's idea prevails, it may deprive you of the good you want or need. In any discussion, new possibilities are opened by realizing that there's no shortage of good available to any of us.
Not long after working out this line of thought, I was walking through the train station on the way to work. In this sea of strangers, I had a strange new feeling: I knew what we all had in common, and I loved it.