Speaking with one voice: building accord.

“If you want to walk fast, walk alone. If you want to go far, walk together.” – African Proverb

“We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” – Benjamin Franklin

“Hatred is so much easier than reconciliation; no sacrifices or compromises are required.” – Lawrence Wright[1]

An infinitesimal fraction of the world’s seven billion people – perhaps an infinitesimal fraction of our much smaller community itself – may have noticed a long hiatus between recent posts here on LOTRW. In part[2] this pause stemmed from a promise made in the LOTRW post of August 20: “the weightier matter of actually building consensus [is] to be discussed in the next post.” Simply put, it turned out to be a bit more difficult to distill a few thoughts on this than I’d anticipated.

Let’s review. “Speaking with one voice” is often promoted within the realm of political advocacy. The logic behind the idea is that if this or that community of interest or practice, comprising, say, public health professionals, or retired persons, or corn growers, or – closer to home, those providing Earth observations, science, and services – speaks with one voice, then political leaders at federal, state, and local levels will either be encouraged or (even better, say some) forced to listen. If instead such communities are less communal, if their members hold a diversity of contested views, then elected leaders feel free to ignore the resulting babble and take their attention and energies elsewhere.

So far, so good. The problem arises when the desire to speak with one voice prompts some to try a shortcut. They may either try to speak with a simple majority voice, ignoring any minority opinions extant. Alternatively, a small group may simply misrepresent themselves as “speaking on behalf of” or otherwise embodying the views of some larger constituency that is in fact internally conflicted or divided or has differing views.

Previous LOTRW posts have argued that to speak with one voice it helps to be of one accord, and that it’s also sometimes possible to identify previously existing but unsuspected accord. But truly building accord – getting from initial difference of opinion or even violent disagreement to true consensus – takes some work. To accomplish that work usually requires that all parties share some larger common value or goal, or destiny.

The older wisdom was clear. For instance, at the time of the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin motivated his disputatious hearers to reach agreement by reminding them they were all in it together – whether they succeeded or failed, they would share a common fate.

We can go back even further in time: the African proverb reminds us that the key to sustainability, a value that most 21st century thinkers would claim they hold dear, is to build, and then remain in, accord. And for the centuries during which divorce wasn’t really an option, couples would reach a range of accommodations[3].

In recent decades, however, the trend has been to factionalize, to polarize, to splinter. We see this in U.S. politics. In the recent Scottish independence referendum. In failed marriages. In media coverage of these issues and myriad more. Along the way, we’ve often found it expedient to justify such splits on the basis of principle rather than mere self-interest. In divorce courts, the grounds most often cited are “irreconcilable differences.” Lawrence Wright suggests similar logic underlies enduring Middle East problems. In like manner, we’ve elevated our debates over healthcare, jobs, education, foreign policy, the environment, and much more to this level, jettisoning any ambition of problem-solving in favor of self-righteous stands.

When it comes to living on the real world, we would do well to walk according to Franklin and the ancient African wisdom. Our individual destinies are inextricably intertwined with one another, whether with respect to wealth or poverty, good health or illness (yes, including Ebola), resilience to hazards or vulnerability, peace or war. When I see my interests as the same as your interests, and you see me in the same light, we’re one step down the road to building accord.

A closing thought – think of it as lying somewhere between a conjecture to be proved or disproved by events, and a conditional forecast:

If we make it our common goal to be more collaborative, more willing to accommodate, more in community with one another, we might become (1) more effective in our use of natural resources, (2) more resilient to hazards, and (3) better stewards of the environment as a collateral benefit.

But if instead we attempt to realize these three goals while remaining as contentious as we are today, we’ll likely fail on all fronts.

Just saying.

[1] From his new book, Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David.

[2] There were other contributors to this pause, including a succession of family matters and my own desire to reevaluate the goals and purposes of this blog before moving forward. Perhaps more about the latter in future posts.

[3] Full disclosure; I’m divorced and remarried myself, for more than 38 years now.

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4 Responses to Speaking with one voice: building accord.

  1. Michelle L'Heureux says:

    Very nice post and I agree that it is easier to cut cords than the build accord. In this day and age, it’s easy to be in touch with others and therefore it’s also easier than ever to find folks who agree and ignore those who don’t agree. This might be part of our problem. If you disagree with me or act difficult, fine, I’ll go find someone else who will confirm my beliefs. So I think we’re still creating teams/groups, but maybe now *more* (possibly smaller) teams competing for limited resources and time.

    I don’t doubt there are those who just take positions on behalf of themselves, but I suspect most folks aren’t very vocal unless they believe there is some support coming from somewhere. So, practically speaking, how do you create *larger* groups in an environment where one can feel *equally* safe/well represented/reinforced within a smaller group. What are the incentive for groups to co-mingle and find common ground? Where are those breeding grounds?

  2. Bill:-

    As usual, a fine post. A few thoughts arising…

    • The Broadmoor neighborhood in New Orleans offers a brilliant example of building accord. LaToya Cantrell did a masterful job of reconciling very different views of how the neighborhood should evolve by acting as an interested but independent third party. In many cases, this can be the best way to do it.

    • It is easiest to build accord when there is a perception that action is needed by almost everyone. That may be why we have done so little about “climate change” – the great body of just plain folks sees that the doom and gloom predictions just aren’t coming true, and we’ve got much bigger problems to deal with.

    • You might then ask, “well, in that case why haven’t we done more to deal with extreme weather events?” I would answer that in fact we have, but that we must also recognize that our government has unintentionally built a constituency for non-action. If I’m going to get insurance money even if I built my home in a place it shouldn;t be (and won’t be for long!), and my premiums don’t reflect that – why do I want to change. And yet, we see even in places like OK, we’re starting to see action toward mandatory tornado safe rooms. And in FL, attempts to curb some of the excesses of the state disaster insurance system. Building accord takes time, and sometimes (sadly) requires a disaster to get people’s attention.

    • Finally, most importantly, building accord requires leadership. Perhaps the greatest indicator of our nation’s lack of leadership is the lack of accord around even some of our most basic needs – educating our youth, building our economy, dealing with poverty. Many of our leaders seem to feel that their careers are tied to admiring our problems instead of finding real solutions. Many others look at the world through ideological lenses, distorting their view of the problems and constraining the set of solutions they will even recognize. Building accord in times like these requires an Alexander to cut through the Gordian knots that bind our minds and tie our hands. Or perhaps an army of Alexanders…

  3. Ed O'Lenic says:

    Some results of possible relevance to this discussion from a study comparing views of evangelicals, scientists and the public by Elaine Howard Ecklund of Rice University may be found at: http://phys.org/news/2014-02-misconceptions-science-religion.html#nRlv

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