Friday, September 4, 2009


By Sheldon Stoff and Barbara Smith Stoff

We have attended a “town hall” meeting. It was a long evening. There was much noise and emotion, seemingly no understanding, and little reasoning. Positions seemed to have been firmly taken even before anyone had spoken. We had innocently thought that there would be an honorable presentation of thoughts and facts and that this meeting would offer an opportunity for deeper understanding of the healthcare reform issues. This was not to be. If only for our own self-therapy, we are writing about our thoughts about this experience, while still recovering from a kind of sick feeling.

There were three wonderful speakers...don't know who they were. One was a man who stood up to share with us the reading he had been doing of the actual bill. The crowd laughed at him, and the congressman interrupted him to call for a sudden expression of yays and nays from the entire assembly. Exactly what they were yaying and naying about, I was not sure. Once the shouting subsided, the man was allowed to continue. At this point I began to feel some anger that this man, who had attempted to do his homework and become informed, was laughed at and basically prevented from speaking. Another was a man who brought a five year old girl with him "to see how democracy works"...He spoke of our need to learn to care for each other. And then there was a woman who spoke movingly of her feelings in response to the irrational fear and selfishness stirring in the crowd. Other than that...the atmosphere was just plain toxic and irrational. We have tried to write something of value to counterbalance...a feather in the wind.

The Republican congressman who had called for this town hall meeting presented his position, but did not present “the other side of the argument” for rebuttal or even discussion. There were posters, signs and slogans, and even loud cat-calls by some attendees. Those supporting President Obama were in the minority, and seemed more reasonable in their behavior. Those siding with the congressman seemed absolutely sure of themselves, and their opinions and were very passionate in their spontaneous vocalizing. Very few seemed to take notice of the realities, or points of view, of the others. There was no meeting of minds, no reconciliation, no understanding—just a hardening of positions. It was an experience in futility.

That night both of us had a very restless sleep. Even our dreams seemed to be invaded by all those wildly gyrating placards… “What would Jesus do?” … “No socialized medicine.” …”Healthcare is a right.”… “Don’t take away my freedom!” Often, in our meditations, as we ask for clarity, our inner guidance somehow offers an answer. This morning, after some time, it came:

“You are responsible to your brothers and sisters. Let that responsibility guide you on this path.”

So, for us, this is the answer. This is a moral responsibility, a mutual and communal responsibility. We need to join quietly together, as a nation, to forge a new path toward Healthcare Reform. It must meet the test of responsibility to our brothers and sisters. We emphasize responsibility to…Responsibility includes responsiveness to our brothers and sisters. There is a difference between responsibility for and responsibility to. There is a difference between giving the man the proverbial fish and the proverbial teaching him how to fish.

It seems that the direction of the looked-for solution to the problem is guided by the basic assumption about the nature of our human society. One thought, or assumption, is that it’s everyone for himself or herself. Another thought, or assumption, is that it’s “we’re all in this together.” Both assessments say something about the basic belief about what is possible for humankind, and whether we as individual participants have some say in the direction humankind takes for the future. Together, let us create a more benevolent path.


Robert Reich's blog on the subject of these 'discussions'....

Wendell Potter | Against Wall Street's Health Care Takeover
Wendell Potter, Common Dreams: "I would like to begin by apologizing to all of you for the role I played 15 years ago in cheating you out of a reformed health care system. Had it not been for greedy insurance companies and other special interests, and their army of lobbyists and spin-doctors like I used to be, we wouldn't be here today."

Editor’s Note: Now Professor Emeritus at Adelphi University, Sheldon Stoff taught a course on the philosophy of Martin Buber while he was studying for his doctorate at Cornell University. During in his long career as an educator and spokesperson for Humanistic Education, with inspiration from Dr. Buber, he established the International Center for Studies in Dialogue. He also received the Outstanding Educator of America Award in 1974. He is author of The Two Way Street, The Human Encounter, The Pumpkin Quest, Universal Kabbalah: Dawn of a New Consciousness, and the newly released The Western Book of Crossing Over: Conversations with the Other Side. As well, he is co-author, with Barbara Smith Stoff, of the forthcoming Partnership Community: Listen to the Gathering Voices. Barbara Smith Stoff, teacher, painter and poet, is producer of Emmy Award winning “Poems of Wonder and Magic.”

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