Tuesday, June 28, 2016

One Wish

If you had one wish, what would it be? We’ve all played this game with friends, sitting around trading What If’s and imaginary futures. Fame and fortune, super powers, immortality, or the love of your life, the answers you get usually depend on the audience and the ground rules set at the beginning. Sometimes they’re serious, sometimes they’re absolutely hilarious, but they’re never real. It’s not like we expect a genie to pop out of some handy lamp and start granting wishes, so we don’t take it seriously. It’s just fun and games.

What if we did take it seriously, though? If you really had one wish, and it would really happen, how would you use it? The usual ground rules apply: no resurrections, no extra wishes, no fake love potions, but you can permanently change one thing in the world. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Aladdin taught us that the obvious wishes aren’t always the best wishes, so let’s take it a step further, shall we? How would you use your one wish to make a better world? Remember, you only get one, so make it count, and think it through. You don’t have a backup wish to make corrections when it turns out that you didn’t consider side effects and consequences in the wish you made. That complicates things, makes the decision a bit more difficult.

Yes, these kinds of thought puzzles are the way my brain often spends its leisure time. That being the case, I have actually considered the question, and I think I have hit upon a pretty solid answer. If I were going to make one wish to make the world a better place, I think I would wish for understanding. Just that. I would wish for people to understand each other.

Understanding is a noninvasive problem solver. Wishing understanding on everyone doesn’t compel any particular action, but it does make more productive answers more likely. It wouldn’t solve everything, but how many of the issues that we face daily are caused by misunderstandings? How many fights erupt out of faulty information? How many suicide notes were written because no one understood?

In the Orson Scott Card novel Ender’s Game, the protagonist, Ender Wiggin, is a strategic genius whose brilliance is explained as an almost superhuman ability to understand the other perspective. As he describes it, "I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves." I don’t know. I think Card may have overstated the idea a little, but then, Ender was also a child, even if a brilliant, precocious child. Maybe perfect understanding would translate into love, and the holdup is simply that we lack perfect understanding, or maybe sometimes you really can understand completely and still not love, but I do think we are at least far more likely to find ways to get along if we understand each other. Robert Heinlein summed up the idea a bit more pragmatically in Time Enough for Love: “Your enemy is never a villain in his own eyes. Keep this in mind; it may offer a way to make him your friend.” Notice that “it may”, not “it will,” but the idea is certainly the same. Understanding can lead to accord.

We forget things like this often in the hustle and bustle of the modern world. It’s faster, and even easier, to just assume and put people into boxes of our own design, rather than accept the more complicated (and generally out-of-the-box) reality that is most people. This is especially true when we’re talking about something that is personally important. If I have decided that this is Right and The Way It Should Be Done then anyone who disagrees must have some nefarious reason for doing so and is probably a bad person, if not outright bent on destroying the world. If we take the time to understand we might learn that the other person wants the best just as much as we do. They just have a different belief on how that best is achieved. The problem is, that takes time and effort, and we’d rather spend those on things of our own choosing than on someone who might be “the enemy.” Never mind they might not actually be the enemy of we took the time and effort. This way is easier.

This way also breaks things. It often breaks our things. Maybe it would be worthwhile to try a different way?

Taking the time to understand each other does not guarantee that we will always come to agreement, or even necessarily get along, but it doesn’t hurt either. If you take the time and still can’t agree, at least you disagree honestly and won’t have later cause for regret when you learn that it was all a misunderstanding. It also means that, even if you disagree, maybe you won’t disagree as much. Maybe you can find some pieces of agreement within the larger disagreement.

If I had one wish, it would be that we could all better understand each other. It wouldn’t make the world perfect, but it would sure make it better, and better is always in the right direction. Wishful thinking, right? We’ll keep trying and, little by little, we’ll get there eventually.

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