Last week I finished reading Ian Dunt’s book, ‘How to be a Liberal’, a history of the development of liberal thought all the way from Descartes to present day arguments about justice and equality. It is a terrific read, which I am still digesting.
I may return to it at greater length later. The chapters on Belonging and Identity are particularly worthwhile. They touch on the struggles we still have today in dealing with the tensions that arise between thinking of people as individuals and the assumptions we make about them arising from our very human tendencies to associate into different groups.
But for this quick post I just wanted to pull out some of the thoughts of John Stuart Mill and his lover, partner and eventual wife, Harriet Taylor, two of the most influential voices on liberalism from the 19th Century. Their words touch on the importance of seeking out difference to enhance our understanding of the world:
In particular, they emphasise the value of testing ideas in debate with those who disagree with us, something that we struggle with in the age of social media:
And finally, they point to the important quality required if one is to engage creatively with people who see the world differently from us – empathy:
How many of us have the commitment and the empathy to put ourselves in the position of another? I like to think that I try, but it can be very hard work. The temptation to fall back into the comforting membership of the group, whether it is shaped by politics, religion, gender, culture, ethnicity, profession or organisational hierarchy, is always there.