“He who stands unyielding and immovable upon a principle is often a fool, and often bigoted, and usually left standing alone with his principle while other men adjust their differences and go on.” – Bendigo Shafter, in the story by the same name, author Louis L’Amour
This article from Q (a Christian website that discusses, among other things, how to engage in public life) provides a powerful example of different ideologies coming together in a city. The article presents an eye opening experience when a group of Christians, Seasons of Service and local churches approached the City of Portland, Oregon about helping out the community. Sam Adams, the mayor of Portland, is openly gay and proudly liberal, so considering the nation’s current political climate one could anticipate how that initial meeting went.
But the story offers a surprising adjustment of perspective. At the event that Q held Adams was asked how the actions and services of Season of Service, such as stocking up a local food bank and cleaning up public spaces in Portland, had altered his perspective of Christianity. Adams responded candidly by saying that previous to this experience “he’d bought into groupthink and media stereotypes about Christians.” But now the mayor had “tangible experience” that an entire segment of his city’s population actually wants to help the city, voluntarily.
What I find inspiring about this story is that urban centers are places in society where barriers are broken and perceptions are shattered. This story speaks of the necessity of ideas to collide right into each other and not to remain separate. There certainly is such a thing as bad debate and interactions that go sour, but this is usually always in part because of the intention of the approaching party. The people of Season of Service and the local Portland churches met Mayor Adams head on not to tear down what he stands for but to help where there is common ground.
It was certainly a no brainer for Adams to agree to their offer of free civil service. But the early tension that he expressed speaks loudly about the uniqueness of what proximity of people provides within an urban setting. It is this type of setting that allows for the sharing of ideas through physical experience. Isolated ideas and principles cannot hide for long in a dense urban setting. They are eventually going to be squeezed out. And the actions turn into the tangible evidence like the events witnessed by Mayor Adams.
The hesitation to listen to other ideas or to engage with different people can only be detrimental for a society as a whole. At the very least, places that don’t provide proximity of human interaction likely produce people standing alone with only their one-sided principle next to them.