My early education taught me what to think. In high school, I learned how to think. In college, I learned not to think at all.
Picture this: someone publishes an op-ed that makes you grind your teeth and create a sizzling jab ready to launch, because you must stand up for justice, which is here defined as whatever your parents or religious education told you was right or wrong. If a peer questions a deep-set tradition you hold, you must dismiss him as seeking to cause trouble in a perfectly good system. And if a friend adopts a political association you despise, she is no longer your friend. If someone tells you that Christianity holds an incorrect position, you must instinctively regurgitate whichever Bible verse or tenet you were told to use if someone is rude enough to challenge your beliefs.
These are all examples of how we have devolved into a society of rapid-fire responses driven by emotion, vitriol, and intolerance. We have developed a hypersensitivity to anything we disagree with. Test yourself to see if you have strong reactions to any of the following names: Nancy Pelosi, Ted Cruz, George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Donald Trump, Joe Manchin. I will be the first to admit that I am guilty of the effects of polarization. But just one word and three letters that can help remind us that the persons evoking negative emotions or responses are human beings, that their lives are just as valuable as our own, and that we are no better than they. The word is “hesitation,” and the letters are “I-H-D.”
Hesitation is the antidote to our immediate, almost instinctive need to react to another’s opinion. Ted Gup speaks of the wonders of hesitation and of the importance of being open to having your beliefs questioned and your opinions changed: “In the company of the confident, I had always envied their certainty…But in time, I came to [embrace] my confusion, and to recognize it as a friend and ally.” Hesitation and uncertainty can be unlikely hotbeds for forging new depths of understanding in a tumultuous world. They often place us in an uncomfortable minority, yes, but they invite us to an important task: to mend the frayed bonds of a disintegrating common ground. In practice, how might we do this? Before we pass judgment or make a decision, we can ask questions such as: How will this affect others, especially those at the periphery of society? Is this issue anchored in the present cultural context? Are we biased due to our own advantages? Can we identify an entry point with humility? We can ask these questions at all levels: personal, institutional, and operational. This is where integral human development comes in.
Integral Human Development (IHD) involves the “development of the whole person and each person.” It is concerned with the processes through which people pursue a good life and human flourishing. In order for someone to “flourish,” he must be enabled to reach his maximum potential. The key word here is enabled: societies cannot be expected to lift people up by their bootstraps who do not want to be lifted up. A government or a community cannot (and should not) do everything for us. However, a just government is one that seeks to remove barriers that prevent people from flourishing. Similarly, a just individual is one who avoids thoughtlessness, indifference to others’ sensitivities, and blindness to social and cultural contexts.
We need just institutions to govern, and they must recognize that the human person has inherent dignity and is capable of exercising agency. We also need just individuals who are willing to listen to criticism and see equal dignity in one another. There is an implication here: we must collectively uphold individual dignity, especially through the institutions we build and support. If we choose to open a clinic, is it good enough that we would send our own mother to it when she is sick? If we support companies who pollute the environment, would we drink the water that the organization’s nearby neighbors must consume? Agency brings about risk and responsibility. If we accept an authentic commitment to human dignity, we accept that commitment for everyone—even the most vulnerable. IHD instructs that we must not leave anyone behind.
IHD is intimately connected to the community and to the flourishing of each of its members. When we invest in the health of our communities, we realize our own mutual dependence. Even if we have one good, we will need another. And without institutional support, we would not have received an education. We are individuals, but we are also interdependent and interconnected. In sum, we depend on the stability of our political structures and on the value of freedom.
We must strive to reach the point where we prefer to listen rather than speak. We need to hesitate—to think twice before we make a decision and consider whether our beliefs and actions are in accordance with integral human development. If we can do that, and if we truly respect the dignity of each person and the whole person, we will find friends in unlikely places, truth in unwelcome circumstance, and kinship in times of darkness.