Saturday, June 25, 2005

Limerick for Host-in-Chief?

Patrician Nelson Limerick, in an op-ed piece for today's New York Times, suggests that disputants in democracies ought to learn a lesson from two American founders who buried the hatchet--John Adams and Thomas Jefferson--as well as her late husband, Jeff Limerick. They should, she says, talk things through and without the impediments of distance with which those in the eighteenth century had to deal, over lunch. Writes Limerick:
When I find myself puzzled and even vexed by the opinions and beliefs of other people, I invite them to have lunch. Multiple experiments have supported what we will call, in Jeff's honor, the Limerick Hypothesis: in the bitter contests of values and political rhetoric that characterize our times, 90 percent of the uproar is noise, and 10 percent is what the scientists call "signal," or solid, substantive information that will reward study and interpretation. If we could eliminate much of the noise, we might find that the actual, meaningful disagreements are on a scale we can manage.
She invites two Christians from the American West, Bill Moyer and James Watt to have lunch at her place in Colorado. The purpose? To discuss their differences--real and imagined--on US environmental policy and to discover their commonalities. (I'll spring for the cost of the lunch if Limerick's lunch materializes, by the way.)

Limerick's notion has broader applicability. Mandatory lunch lockdowns for members of Congress, maybe? Noontime meals involving people like Michael Eisner and Roy Disney or Matt Lauer and Tom Cruise?

But whether, in our cliche-ridden, talk-show infested, blog-heated, spin-saturated world people are actually interested in doing the hard work of democracy and civil society, I don't know.

But we shouldn't despair. The celebrated reconciliation cited by Limerick, that of Adams and Jefferson, took a long time to materialize and only after it was suggested by a mutual friend of both men. Who knows? Hosting lunches may prove to be the very thing to get talented people working together in America.

This is similar to the approach to conflict resolution within the Church that Jesus commends, by the way. He says, in essence, Don't go around blowing off steam about people to others. Instead, go directly to the person with whom you have the beef.

This process can usually be facilitated by a caring person who's willing to serve up salad and burgers and who has sufficient credibility with both parties to cry, "Foul!" when comments become either self-justifying or accusatory.

I nominate Limerick to become America's first Lunch Host-in-Chief.

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