Recently Nicholas Kristof used his New York Times opinion column to praise George W. Bush’s policy to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS. Bush’s policy saved 25 million lives. That number exceeds:
the Holocaust…genocides of Armenians, Cambodians, Rwandans, Bosnians, Darfuris and Rohingya; all the confirmed deaths from Covid worldwide; all the deaths of American troops in all wars in the country’s history back to 1776; all the gun deaths in the United States in the last half-century; and all the auto deaths in the United States in the last half-century — combined.
Kristof is a liberal; Bush is a conservative. Kristof still gave him credit. This particular exchange might not seem remarkable, but in 2023 it really is. It is rare to see someone praise the policy goals of their adversaries.
People really struggle to say nice things about the other team. They think by doing so they concede ground in an intellectual tug-of-war. I disagree; often they gain it. Admitting that someone with whom we disagree has something to offer does not show weakness in us; it simply shows that we have the humility and good sense to know that others can be right. In fact, acknowledging that others have something intellectually to offer is not a weakness; it’s the definition of an education.
We exhaust countless words trying to communicate our positions to people, most of which they could easily guess. In the end, it amounts to tribalism and sectarianism. We repeat and rehash the talking points that have been handed to us. This stunts our growth. When we believe our team is alway superior, we aren’t just wrong; we are likely dishonest, ignorant, or both.
Biblical scholar Krister Stendahl claims that one key to cross-cultural conversations is holy envy. Holy envy is the feeling you have toward features of your “enemies” that you privately wish you had, like the Sabbath of Jews or the simplicity of the Amish or the Spirit of charismatics. The story of the Good Samaritan is not the story of how to be a neighbor to the wounded person on the road, but instead how to love “the one who showed him mercy” (Lk. 10:27). Jesus says “Love your enemies.” If that sounds too ambitious, we might start with “Learn from your enemies.”
All of us know a Good Samaritan. It’s time we give them credit. But how?
- Don’t personalize everything. Good people often have terrible policy ideas and terrible people can have good ones.
- Be generous. Praise and credit don’t have to be scarce. Giving credit to someone does not take it away from someone else. It’s a huge pie.
- Stay curious. Read widely. Get out of the curated echo chambers of a faith group, political party, or Facebook feed. Ask people what they think. Hang out with antagonists. Ask a lot of questions. Be ready to change.