As we approach the presidential election year of 2020, we educators are giving a great deal of thought to our role in creating an environment where young people can learn and practice the art of responsible citizenship. I was quite interested, therefore, when a colleague sent me an article from the philosopher Alain de Bouton’s online Book of Life, entitled “Political Emotional Maturity.”
In this brief piece, Bouton enumerates the unfortunately familiar litany of “politically immature thoughts that may take hold in human minds and become the heralds of catastrophe.” He explains that such “casts of mind” are present across the political and ideological spectrum, claiming that, “It doesn’t matter so much what the idea is, it’s the manner in which it’s held and the response to those who disagree with it and who must be sacrificed in its name that tells us the degree of danger we’re up against.”
Helpfully and hopefully, he concludes the article with a list of some of the key tenets of political maturity, including the understanding that;
- “Large, complex problems require large, complex solutions. The more immediate and total a solution being proposed, the more likely it is to be false.
- “Rock solid certainty is the sure sign of rock solid idiocy. The cleverer the person, the more they are haunted by the sense they may be wrong.
- “Because we are all invariably foolish and blind, politeness, gentleness, slowness, and forgiveness are key political virtues.
- “One can never be both right and cruel.
- “Nothing can be made perfect; nothing will ever be totally pure. Compromise is the cleanest word there is.”
It is useful for those of us who work with young people to have such a clear and concise delineation of both the challenges we face and the outcomes to which we can aspire. We are left in the end, though, with the task of determining how to bring about heightened levels of political maturity among the students in our care. I’m glad to be able to say that many of the necessary ingredients are, and long have been, mainstays of a Friends School education. Indeed, the Quaker notion of “continuing revelation” pushes us to be open to the imperfection of our own ideas and the need to listen to others, particularly those with whom we disagree. And the belief that there is that of God in every person demands that we honor the piece of the truth that others bring to any discernment process.
We have plans in the works to help foster in our students the qualities of political maturity that Bouton describes. For some of them, the 2020 election will be their first opportunity to cast a vote. For others, that day is still in the future, but our aim is for them to be ready when their time comes.