Acting with the Highest Motives

“Four things to learn in life:
To think clearly without hurry or confusion;
To love everybody sincerely;
To act in everything with the highest motives;
To trust God unhesitatingly.”

-Helen Keller

On June 26th the Green Party of the United States will be making history, one way or the other. On that date a decision will be made in Milwaukee about what it does as far as the 2004 Presidential race.

The debate over this question within the GPUS has been very heated and sometimes very problematic over the past year. Without question, some have gone over the line with their email posts.

Many, most, have not done so, and this is grounds for hope that, whatever decision is reached on June 26th, it will be reached through a relatively respectful, if intense, process of discussion and debate.

It is critical, essential, that this be the case. Because after 2004 comes 2005 and many more years to come, and the national Green Party is an important component of the independent progressive movement. It serves no one’s interests except the ruling elite for the Greens to emerge from Milwaukee in a seriously divided condition.

Helen Keller’s words can be useful in this regard.

I carry Keller’s quote around in my wallet. From time to time, especially when I am heading into what I know will be a difficult situation, I pull it out and meditate on it. Although I can’t say I agree 100% with all that she says, and although I know that some will be turned off to the “God” reference, I have found the spirit behind what she says of great value in keeping me centered and focused during difficult debates.

It helps me keep in mind that those I have strong negative feelings about are also, like me, human beings trying to make their way in a sometimes hostile and difficult world. Even if I feel they are completely wrong or are functioning in a very problematic manner, I need to oppose them in a spirit which, while direct and honest, doesn’t demean or personally attack them. I don’t always succeed in this, but I know I have to try, and if I slip up, take time to think through how that happened so that it won’t in the future.

I have to watch becoming so “tactical,” so focused on figuring out what’s the best thing to say to try to win people towards my position, that I’m willing to distort the truth. The best and most productive debates take place when all sides are honestly striving towards the truth of the particular issue under discussion, when all sides appreciate that the overall truth is usually found not on just one side but through a dialectical process of interaction that can lead to the greater truth.

I need to be willing to accept criticism, consider it, and apologize if I determine that the criticism is accurate.

I need to be humble. This is not always easy when you’re in the midst of a heated debate where you are trying to out-debate the other side, and you want to come across very together and “correct.”

I need to keep historical perspective. In most cases–not all–the particular point of debate is not so essential that if my side loses, all is lost. I have to keep in mind, as the saying goes, that when one door closes, another one can open. I have to try hard to be as objective as possible in understanding what is taking place and determining, in discussion with others I trust, what it all means.

Finally, I need to be in touch with my feelings, not to repress them or to let them rule my behavior, but because an understanding of how one is feeling is usually an important component in determining whether and how one should speak. If I’m feeling very angry or on edge about how a discussion is going, for example, it probably means there is something wrong that I need to try to identify and address. If I’m feeling very mellow, I should just shut up and let things flow.

The poet and socialist Bertolt Brecht eloquently addressed this issue in one of his poems:

“For we knew only too well:
Even the hatred of squalor
Makes the brow grow stern.
Even anger against injustice
Makes the voice grow harsh. Alas, we
Who wished to lay the foundations of kindness
Could not ourselves be kind.
But you, when at last it comes to pass
That man can help his fellow man,
Do not judge us
Too harshly.”