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Shard of truth

Alex Coccia | Wednesday, August 29, 2012

In my first article freshman year, I referenced Kwame Anthony Appiah’s “Cosmopolitanism,” which seems appropriate to resurrect in this current political context. Creating the metaphor for Truth as a complete mirror, he writes, “Each shard [of this mirror once shattered] reflects one part of a complex truth from its own particular angle. … You will find parts of the truth (along with much error) everywhere and the whole truth nowhere. The deepest mistake … is to think that your little shard of mirror can reflect the whole.”
There is great responsibility that comes when expressing what is reflected in a single shard of glass – whether it is a politician’s platform, a Supreme Court justice’s dissenting opinion or a columnist’s criticisms. The glass shattered long before the founding of the country. What piece of truth there is must be handled in such a way that does not damage our pursuit of the whole Truth. The means with which we handle our truth requires humility.
An important framework for the need for humility in our current discourse can be found in 1 Corinthians 13: “For now, we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. … And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” (12-13). Dr. Cornel West, a professor at Princeton University, echoes 1 Corinthians 13 when he writes, “To be a part of a prophetic tradition is not to be a prophet or elitist. Rather, it is humbly to direct your strongest criticisms at yourself and then self-critically speak your mind to others with painful candor and genuine compassion.” If we take our role as American citizens to be prophetic within our borders and examples to other countries, we must proceed with humble means. “The greatest of these is love,” and so, if in our humility, we are guided by love, we are more carefully collecting the various shards of glass, resulting in a more complete truth for our country.
It does a great disservice to our country when humility is notably absent in the political discourse. The lack of it augments the divisiveness of debate, debate which has the potential of being healthy and fulfilling. The epithet “war” is applied to almost any disagreement – Obama’s “War on Religion” or the GOP’s “War on Women.” Both political parties claim their side is the victim and the other side is the beast. There is the Truth according to Democrats and the Truth according to Republicans. Unfortunately, each claims to be the whole Truth rather than a simple shard of it.
When discussing humility in a political context, one main criticism emerges – a political leader must be confident and appear confident to his or her constituents and the rest of the world. Confidence, it assumes, rejects humility, because humility is seen as a form of weakness. However, confidence and humility are not incompatible; in fact, typically those who are the most confident are also the most humble. The presence of humility does not weaken a politician or his or her positions.
Rather, humility does provide a politician with the foresight to change his or her positioning, not position. Positioning allows maneuverability in achieving one’s set position. Humility and willingness to change one’s means for the benefit of the end creates room for compromise.
Not surprising in today’s political climate, compromise is both an afterthought and a fairytale. Today, compromise is defined as bipartisanship in which one side moves completely across the aisle to agree with the other.
However, true compromise is a platform for progress as a country, but it is impossible without humility. Compromise is certainly not possible nor recommended for everything – ultimate positions do not have to be compromised. When it comes to guaranteeing basic human rights and protecting the dignity of the human person, there can be no compromise. But when it comes to how politicians conduct themselves, willingness to compromise and admittance to the reality in which no politician holds the whole Truth, is absolutely necessary for progress as a country, because it relies on the assumption that there will be more truth to discover.
Our goal as citizens and as a country should be to create the space in our personal lives and our public lives for humble discourse. The means with which we reconstruct the glass, which we are all attempting to do, are as important as the final product itself. For, one mishandling can shatter each piece into more, setting back any further attempt at attaining the Truth. Let’s not shatter the glass further.
Alex Coccia is a junior Africana and peace studies major, and a gender studies minor. He can be reached at acoccia@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.