Thursday, February 23, 2006

Blogs, autism, and the moral conversation

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.


kristina said...

Living with autism has been all about finding error where I least expected it (often in my own frantically clung-too "beliefs") and truth in the muddy, dank places I would have preferred to have ignored. I remind myself again and again, whatever I have lived through with Charlie, still "I know nothing." Reading your words and those of so many others helps me to get a bit closer to clarity, and maybe to truth, every day.

Wade Rankin said...

It is said that true faith emerges only from doubt. I know that many of my views have changed after confronting other viewpoints on the web. Although it may sound a bit trite, none of us has a monopoly on the truth.

Anonymous said...

what a wonderful post, MOM-NOS. i so appreciate your words and the wisdom in the moral argument. life is a messy wonderful thing and as much as i find it scary to feel around in the dark and to feel things bang around in the dark within me, i'm deeply glad for it. what has moved me has always been the search. while there are many discoveries along the way, there is no end to the searching.

Eileen said...

Whenever I don't understand where a person is coming from, I do try to put myself in their shoes to see why they feel/believe what they do. This can be very difficult to do because of how strong my own beliefs can be, but I try to keep an open-mind and I will always be the first to admit that I have a lot to learn. What I often come to realize is that our beliefs are not all that different. In the end we all want what is best for our children. I have learned so much from all the different writings of Autism parents (You being one of those). I hope to keep learning More.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant. I wrote the central premise down on the piece of paper that was sitting next to my computer. I am going to need to read it over and over again. I am going to need to have it in front of me the next time I really disagree with someone. It's brilliant; it's simple. It sounds so simple, but it requires so much — complete self awareness and surrendering the need to be right — two things humans aren't naturally good at.

Think about what could happen. What would happen if our daily interaction was guided by this central premise? What would it mean to families? Marriages? Society as a whole?

I so enjoy your blog. Your writing is thoughtful, moving and inspiring. Thank you for sharing it with us.

gretchen said...

(She says only half-joking...) I don't want to. I like my little world of right and wrong. It's little, but it's mine. This simplifies my life!

Well, ok, I trust you, so I'll try it.

Well-said, as usual, Bud's mom.

Randy said...

Great post. This approach to the moral conversation is an excellent idea, particularly in the realm of parenting kids with autism, where so many people seem to have strong, inflexible opinions. But I think all of us are out to do what's best for our kids, and that's where the conversation should begin.

Estee Klar-Wolfond said...

Examination of ideas, examination of self, and trying it all "on," is the only way to any conviction. And then once you have one, you have to start the process over and over again.