By Donella Meadows
–January 5, 1988–
“Dear Mrs. Meadows,
“Are you one of the people who really believe what you write, or are you one of those who are trying to dupe the public?
“Fortunately, it is no secret that the media IS biased and IS (to use the word) LIBERAL. Fortunately also, “grassroots” America hasn’t bought the bill of goods that you all have been trying to sell, as proven by the recent election!
“Bush might not be the best anti-Liberal for the job, but he’s a start! With prayers and action we will reverse Roe v Wade and prevent the legal slaughter of the unborn, possibly get prayer returned to schools, and maybe get America turned around and facing God! No, we can’t force people to love God, but we are sick of you forcing your IMMORALITY on us and our families!
* * * * *
I wonder if you can imagine how sad I feel, reading your letter.
You and I are fellow Americans. Supposedly we make decisions collectively, expressing our common will in democratic elections and our opinions in the free marketplace of ideas. We don’t need to agree with each other. But we need to respect the expression of each other’s point of view.
I find in your letter no respect, no toleration. And when I don’t feel respected, I lose all respect in turn. When I first opened your letter, I read it, laughed, said “another right-wing kook!”, and tossed it in the wastebasket.
Then I pulled it out and read it again, and that’s when the sadness welled up. I think it was your “quite sincerely” that did it. I felt your sincerity, I felt the enormity of the gulf between us, and I could think of no way to reach across to you.
I wonder if I could do anything that would cause you to respond to me as a person instead of a category, a LIBERAL, a danger, something you have to defend yourself against. I wonder if I could see you as a person instead of a a right-winger, an annoyance, something that is best steadfastly ignored.
When I try to put myself in your place, to understand how the world must appear to you, I can’t do it, and you obviously can’t understand how the world appears to me. You explain me to yourself by supposing that I am duplicit and immoral. When I try to explain you to myself, I suppose you must be desperately angry and frightened. Angry at a world that has become soulless and permissive, transgressing all the boundaries that define your own identity. Frightened that the few remaining vestiges of decency and regularity in your life will be undermined by people like me.
I think your guess about me is way off the mark, of course. Have I guessed equally badly about you? I wish I knew. I wish we could have an honest talk and share our deepest fears and hopes. I expect we would discover that we are both angry and frightened, both trying in our own ways to be moral. But I’m afraid you would never consent to talk like that. The very idea may be too Liberal, too touchy-feely for you.
It’s hard to know even how to begin. You doubt the very ground I stand on (the assumption that underneath we’re all uncertain, all struggling to know and do what’s Right). I doubt the ground you stand on (there is but one definition of Right and everything else is evil). In each other’s presence our very foundations become so wobbly that we want nothing so much as to flee back to the welcome stability of Our Own Kind.
It may be that the worst threat to our nation is not the one you fear — that the undisciplined ideas of fast-talking liberals will lead us to Godless communism. And not the one I fear — that the rigid righteousness of fundamentalists will bring us to militaristic fascism. The worst threat may be our inability to reach across those mutually reinforcing fears and to treat each other with civility as fellow citizens and worthy human beings.
I’ve tried to reach across, as best I know how. Please help. Please reach back.
Thanks for writing.
Quite sincerely, Donella Meadows
Copyright Sustainability Institute 1989