Yesterday, I read this dialogue between poet Brian Blanchfield and the writer Maggie Nelson. It's warm and fiercely intelligent, as anything involving Maggie Nelson is wont to be. But it was generous principle of charity between them that warmed me as I read.
"Whenever I consider the sort of friend I relish being, I think of you: a deeply understanding, permissive, even fiery advocate with advanced capacity to listen, whose intellect is a joy, who can surrender happily to the absurd, and who can share the playground of language." - Brian Blanchfield
In philosophy, the a Principle of Charity is an important methodological presumption. It's a concept I studied when reading Quine and Donald Davidson, basically this: That when we listen to another speak we should seek to understand what is said in a manner that affords the other sense. (An illustration would be the charitable way a human translator converts text from one language into another, compared to the uncharitable way Google Translator does it). It's related to a Principle of Humanity too.
"In philosophy and rhetoric, the principle of charity requires interpreting a speaker's statements to be rational and, in the case of any argument, considering its best, strongest possible interpretation.In its narrowest sense, the goal of this methodological principle is to avoid attributing irrationality, logical fallacies or falsehoods to the others' statements, when a coherent, rational interpretation of the statements is available." - Wikipedia
That principle is common in conversation between friends and it comes across in dialogue between Maggie Nelson and Brian Blanchfield. When we listen to friends talk we build bridges, help fill in blanks, work hard to attribute an understanding that is kind, allowing each other the space to build and back-track, clarify and reconsider. It's only when we exhaust all these things that disagreements set in, but even disagreement can be a patient and respectful process.
I think one of the reasons many people are nervous to confront sensitive topics on their blogs is because the internet is rife with people who abandon a principle of charity when reading or listening to one another. Such people precisely don't seek to understand the other, but to lynch and troll and snipe. It's a justified fear of the blogger that they'll be willfully misunderstood, and I braced for it when I published this week's post, as I often do when I write an emotional or argumentative post.
Of course, a principle of charity does not guarantee that we all agree on the same conclusion. I'm sure we don't all agree, even those of us who reason similarly and openly. And if you're dealing with somebody who is not coherent or rational, the principle of charity will not make them so.
But it warmed me this week when you started commenting on my post. And I could immediately see you were seeking to understand what I wrote and to comfort me and to engage in a constructive dialogue. In that way, I felt that I was really talking with friends... not that we all necessarily agree, but friends who weren't just seeking to find a loose thread and pull at it for the sake of that, but to thoughtfully and charitably read and respond. And I think that's a beautiful thing to experience here, on the internet, where we could just as easily not bother.
So, difficult as those events and topics were and are to consider and blog about, I felt your kindness and understanding and want to thank you for that. Now, if only our politicians could talk to us and each other with the same principles. Sigh...
Have a lovely weekend!