“When someone preaches hatred against another, discount it, and, if you have the opportunity, go to them and tell them ‘please don’t talk about other people.’ Those who talk about others don’t have something [good] to present themselves… Please do yourself a favor. When you hear labeling, you need to be more intelligent than the label. You need to rise above it and tell yourself whatever good is coming from this person I will take it; whatever bad is coming, I will discount it” — Mufti Ismail ibn Musa Menk.
Today we are faced with the pressure to be ever more morally pure, or morally virginal — to have never have thought a bad thought, or to have any depth of understanding of anything with which we disagree (and therefore compassion for anyone we might disagree with). Even at universities, it seems, if a book contains a hundred good ideas and one bad one, it is considered unreadable, and must be denounced.
Undoubtedly such behavior is partly a consequence of the mass society — of, for example, blogs and media seeking to grab attention through “click bait” headlines and sensational, simplistic, and one-dimensional writing that misrepresent individuals, groups, and ideas. Such behavior only hardens positions, and enflames conflict. This is especially true in the realm of politics, of course, which is generally fundamentalist, despite the fact that the opinions of each side are constantly changing, are sometimes swapped, and will be totally different tomorrow to what they are today.
Indeed, we have all heard of, and perhaps have been part of, interfaith dialogue, yet we have never heard of interpolitical dialogue. Most of us have been in some kind of religious or spiritual gathering with Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and so on, but politically those on one side isolate themselves from people on the other, often refusing even to be friends or even being able to discuss dispassionately their beliefs and why they believe them, or why someone might believe differently.
There may be people who say I should not have quoted Mufti Ismail ibn Musa Menk. But why not quote someone when they say something of value, when we need to learn, or to remember, that lesson? Does it mean that I endorse everything he has ever said, or might ever say? No. It means I agree with him on this point, that I believe that this point is important to make, and that I acknowledge that he has said this when — in an age of extremism on all sides — it is perhaps not the easiest point to make.
Like a tornado, politics whirls around us, tugging at us, mesmerizing us. This force wants us to be against this or that group or person, to see nothing in them or in him or her but bad qualities, to denounce them, and to find our own identity in that act of condemning.
It does not want us to find the good in others. Or to cultivate such good qualities in ourselves. It wants us to be political, to focus all our energies on the behavior of others, even though we have little or no understanding of them, and less and less understanding of ourselves. This, of course, is incompatible with self-improvement or authentic spirituality.
For our own peace of mind, we must see politics — with all its hysteria, hostility, and hypocrisy — as human folly.
Instead of indulging in the stereotyping and slandering of others, we should admit our own shortcomings and work to fix them. Without judging, we should recognize the good and the bad in both ourselves and others, finding in the shortcomings of those we meet a reminder of our own, and seeking to cultivate in us what is good in them.