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Fetzer Institute President & CEO, Bob Boisture

By Bob Boisture, Fetzer Institute President & CEO
Originally published in USA Today April 9, 2022

Think about how our conversations across political, racial and other divides would be transformed if they were grounded in love.

Odds are you agree that our country’s deep divides are bad for our democracy and that we need to learn how to bridge them. Poll after poll confirms this is how most Americans feel.

If you are looking for a great place to start, I strongly encourage you to sign up to participate in America Talks.

Launched in 2021 as a collaborative initiative of dozens of bridging organizations and the marquee event of the National Week of Conversation, America Talks connects participants for one-on-one and small group conversations about how we can find common ground.

As you contemplate beginning this journey, I encourage you to think about where it could lead. Yes, it would save and renew our faltering democracy and that is reason enough to begin.

HELP UNITE AMERICA: Register to participate in America Talks

But think about how far we could go if we went beyond just learning how to be civil to each other and, instead, kept at it until we learned how to truly love each other across all our differences and divides.

Aim high in working for change

Love as the foundation for our national life is a high bar, but if we are going to do the bridging work anyway, why not aim high?

Love is a tricky word with many meanings, some ennobling, some trivializing, some destructive. You love your children, he loves pizza, they love to gamble.

I mean the radical and radically transforming understanding of love at the heart of all the great spiritual traditions. This is the love that calls us into real relationship, that makes others’ flourishing as important as our own, that demands truth and justice, that requires us to take responsibility and make amends when we have wronged another, and to forgive when we have been wronged. It is the love that leads ultimately to community and shared flourishing.

What if we assumed the best of each other?

Think about how our conversations across political, racial and other divides would be transformed if they were grounded in love.

We would assume the best about each other and not the worst. We would be mindful of our tribal instincts and tribal thinking and work hard to overcome them. We would acknowledge the limitations of our own knowledge, wisdom, and life experience, and be genuinely open, indeed eager, to have our minds and hearts changed by what we learn from each other.

Even more radically, we would begin with a deep sense of shared humanity, a genuine desire to connect, and a real commitment to each other’s flourishing. Where we have wronged another, we would forthrightly admit it, ask forgiveness and make amends. Where we have been wronged, our plea for justice would be grounded in love and hope rather than enmity and fear. We would seek and find the common ground on which to build a flourishing world.

Love, in a word, would change everything and make everything possible.

But is this sort of radical love possible? That is the question on which everything turns. As an answer, the shared wisdom and experience of the world’s great spiritual traditions should give us hope.

Each, in its own way, has found love at the heart of reality, calling and empowering us to love in return. And each has developed spiritual paths and practices through which countless ordinary people just like us have become exemplars of love.

Resources available to guide transformation

The suggestion: if you are doubtful about the power of love to transform our common life, take a look at the Fetzer Institute’s recent Study of Spirituality in the United States and our Guide to Exploring Spirituality and Civic Life.

Love is about sharing spiritual heritage and it can be the spiritual common ground on which we come together to build a flourishing world. Unless you have a better idea, shouldn’t we give it a try?

Bob Boisture is president and CEO of the Fetzer Institute.