Sorry. I know it’s Valentines day, and it’s also happens to be Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of Lent. But I’m not going to write anything about any of those things today. I want to process some more of my thinking that began on my Monday post A Culture That Can’t Listen to an Opposing View. Our American public square is quickly devolving into a space where people increasingly not only will not even listen to ideas that may be different from the ones they’ve already adopted, but they also increasingly lack the capacity to winsomely persuade others about the nobility and quality of their most treasured ideas. The more our public square devolves into this condition the more people and groups will rely on power to get their job done – as in using various forms of force to assure that their idea will prevail.
It really does not have to be this way. Tim Muehlhoff, Richard Langer, and Quentin J. Schultze, in their book “Winsome Persuasion: Christian Influence in a Post-Christian World” share this great insight from very recent European history. They observe the life and writings of Czech dissident Václav Havel who later became president of the Czech Republic.
He lived in extremely volatile and dangerous political times. He was arrested and imprisoned by the communist regime in Czechoslovakia during the years before the collapse of the Eastern Bloc in 1989. He faced some equally difficult experiences when he served as the first president of Czechoslovakia in the post-communist era. These were hard times by any measure, yet it is refreshing to hear Havel talk about politics. He was firmly committed to honesty, civility, and morality as central concerns of politics, even though many thought this hopelessly naive. He mentions a particular opponent for whom “the idea that the world might actually be changed by . . . the power of a truthful word, the strength of a free spirit, conscience, and responsibility—with no guns, no lust for power, no political wheeling and dealing—was quite beyond the horizon of his understanding.” As Havel puts it, “There is only one way to strive for decency, reason, responsibility, sincerity, civility, and tolerance, and that is decently, reasonably, responsibly, sincerely, civilly, and tolerantly.” These values were so clearly manifest in the revolution of 1989 that we now refer it as the Velvet Revolution.
This is the kind of perspective and spirit we all need, but most of all we who follow Jesus absolutely must seek to live, and listen, and persuade in the manner described by Havel.