Aired on November 22, 2010
Narration by Emily Bolinas
THE POLITICAL GAP
Perhaps the easiest divide to overcome is the political divide. In a democratic system of government, it is theoretically possible for each person to have the same rights and duties. Before the ballot box, both rich and poor have one vote. For once, the poor can make their voices heard. Even if often, these voices are ignored.
A 2004 study suggested that the poor know how to choose leaders in a more discerning way than is commonly believed. The result of the survey showed that righteousness, competence, integrity, and respectability were some of the criteria that the poor want good leaders to have. At the same time, this survey showed that elections were the one time the elites paid attention to the poor. Vote-buying is one of the more insidious examples of this.
Of course, the cultural gap does play a role in the political divide. While, for instance, intellectual and social elites think in terms of ideologies and structures, relationships may be the priority among those outside the elite. Different understandings of how leadership is exercised often affect how people make choices. Any attempt to bridge the political divide could benefit from a dialogue between these understandings.
Indeed, an attempt to bridge this gap may very well influence how we think about politics itself. Those of us in the elite may have to start re-thinking our unconditional allegiances to political ideologies that work only in certain contexts. Those of us who are not in the elite would have to understand that the idea of sakop, which we apply to tribe or family, could extend far wider than we first imagined.
What we welcome in the new government is its choice to appoint officials who, in general, believe in consultative processes. While it may be exasperating for those who believe decisive action is the answer for almost everything, our divided society demands a process of dialogue and listening. Sometimes we may have to start things all over again, and learn how to listen to different voices and understand such voices within their particular contexts.
For the faith community, it may well be that we ourselves propagate these divisions. We may very well be like the Levite or priest who prioritized religious boundaries over the call for compassion. Like the Jewish lawyer, we are being challenged to be neighbor to everyone. As Jesus urged the lawyer, “Go and do likewise.” The gospel demands that we do the same for our beloved yet tragically divided land.