I read a lot of blogs written by parents of children with autism. Sometimes I'm moved; sometimes I'm humored; sometimes I'm inspired. But increasingly in recent days I have been challenged.
Though I'm typically drawn to the blogs written by parents who share my philosophy, I've broadened my approach recently to read some by parents with alternative viewpoints. Even in many of my "regular reads" I've found people challenging themselves and each other, considering multiple perspectives, and taking some risks - and I really appreciate it.
To make sense of it all, I have found myself turning to the principles of the "moral conversation," an approach to considering complex issues that I first learned in graduate school and that I now recognize as the single most valuable piece of learning in my life so far. Developed by Dr. Robert J. Nash at the University of Vermont, the moral conversation seeks to provide a framework for engaging with others about difficult, potentially divisive issues in a manner that emphasizes the fundamental worth and dignity of all those involved. Its central premise is deceptively simple:
First, find the truth in what you oppose and the error in what you espouse.
Then and only then can you declare the truth in what you espouse and the error in what you oppose.
It sounds easy; it's not. The moral conversation is not about maintaining a superficial tolerance for ideas with which we disagree. It's not about listening politely and acknowledging to others that they "make a good point." It's about truly engaging with the ideas we resist: trying them on; walking around in them for a while; running them through multiple filters; and searching, searching, searching for the truths that lie within them. Because, usually, the truths are there. They are small "t" truths: not universal, not unassailable, but truths nonetheless.
But that's not all.
The moral conversation further pushes us to consider our own beliefs, opinions, and ideas. It requires us to delve deeply into the truths to which we've, consciously or unconsciously, assigned a capital T, and then to bravely, honestly, thoughtfully reevaluate our stances and change our cases.
Finally, it requires us to put it all together and articulate a new, more thoughtful, less universal, perhaps less dogmatic, but usually much more honest philosophy.
I've been using the moral conversation in many ways for many years. It has guided me through some of the most painful, confusing, conflicted times in my life. It has helped me in my profession, in my relationships, and in my parenting. It's difficult every time; but when I do it well (and I don't always do it well) the benefits are extraordinary.
And so, once again, it's time to let down my defenses, open up my mind, and engage in a moral conversation - with other philosophies, with other writers, and, ultimately, with myself.