If you have the intellectual capacity to be reading and taking an interest in a short essay, then you have no doubt had the following experience: You are trying to explain something logically to someone who is not using reason. No matter how detailed your explanation is, how sound the logic, how obvious the conclusions may seem to you, the person you are dealing with is not getting it. Maybe you’ve called this person “stupid,” or maybe you’ve had the compassion to realize that they are simply distracted by fears, or powerless against deep-seated beliefs, or have some emotional baggage that keeps them from thinking clearly. Whatever the case, can we agree that there are different levels of consciousness at work here? And can we agree that in such instances the more willing you (the one trying to get the point across) are to consider that the other person is unable to see what you see, the less you will feel like you need to keep beating your head against a brick wall? As you consider the gap in consciousness, you can be more compassionate towards another’s ignorance, look for ways to communicate on their level, learn how not to push the emotional buttons that cause knee-jerk reactions, and encourage that person to expand his or her own consciousness through subtle guidance.

Now, imagine that there is a different type of intelligence that perhaps has nothing to do with reason. Imagine that there is someone who has been talking to you for years, who is being patient and compassionate toward your ignorance, simplifying their language for your benefit, and guiding you towards a more expanded consciousness. This person who has been talking to you could be said to have a “higher” or more expanded consciousness than you. (In fact, this person could be one of those people you have been so patient with for their limited grasp of reason. We are all multidimensional critters; this is not a hierarchy, and we all have multiple gifts and challenges.)

Can you imagine that? Truly? For intellectuals it’s difficult, or even offensive, to consider that there is a reality beyond reason. Despite the George Bushes and the dumbing-down of our society, as a whole humanity still puts an unnaturally high value on intellect; intellectual intelligence is the highest form of consciousness most of us, and we as a collective, can conceive of. I’m speaking very generally here of the overall trajectory of human consciousness; I’m aware that there are marginalized cultures that still value magic over intellect in some way, but people of these cultures are increasingly learning to jump through Western institutional hoops and embrace a logical worldview for the sake of survival. The last socially accepted refuge for magic and miracles in the dominant cultures is institutionalized and diluted in religion, but that’s a whole other discussion.

Once again, I am talking about the work of democracy. By democracy I mean the intention to create political and social spaces within which everyone can realize their potential, evolve, and experience the freedom of thought and movement that allows for this growth to happen. An absolutely basic and essential feature of the democratic exercise is the consideration of all points of view – hence the institutions of debate and voting rights – and the constant self-questioning that we each must do to make sure that as many voices as possible are being heard and valued. Basically I’m just repeating some principles we all claim to embrace – that we are all created equal, that we are endowed by virtue of that creation with inalienable rights that include life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The interpretation of these words is our continuing adventure.

Perhaps you already do the work of patience with people who you feel are not your intellectual equals. Perhaps you believe with all of your heart in the just society that fosters the consideration of multiple points of view, and you walk your talk by trying to understand others.

But can you consider just how deep this work goes?

When one admits one’s own blindness, one can begin to see the meta-narrative. When intellectuals can consider that their consciousness is being shaped by a linguistics, by a paradigm, that is as much an overlaid construct as the limited worldview of someone who is for instance not thinking clearly due to emotional trauma or life under tyranny, then we can begin to recognize aspects of that construct, break them down, and create a more expanded and expansive paradigm.

I’m not talking about throwing reason out the window. Reason broke down the ancienne regime, led us out of the muck of superstition and the exploitation and violence perpetrated in its name, and created science. Reason is our friend. I’m using reason in this essay.

I guess what I’m talking about is faith. Yes, a scary word for a secular society, especially since it’s been kidnapped by religion. What I mean by faith is a sense of personal assurance in something not visible or provable. True faith is often accompanied by a type of vitality, and a willingness to sacrifice on behalf of the “object” of faith. (Here I’m dealing with the limitations of prosaic English, again – faith is better described by poetry. “Object” is a very dualistic and possessive word.) We experience faith within marriages; we have faith in sports teams, certain leaders, our creative visions, and our children despite their mistakes. American democracy is a constant exercise in faith; for instance, even those of us who know how damaged our electoral system is, still go out and vote. If you don’t even vote, you are probably not the sort of person who is still reading this essay.

The big exercise in democratic faith is to trust that every single person’s worldview is valid. Even those we consider stupid, crazy, or woo-woo. (Interesting note – Spell Check acknowledges the validity of the word “woo-woo.” My point exactly.) Respect is often what is missing in this practice – we can acknowledge someone else’s worldview, while inside we are writing that person off. The next vital step in any democratic practice is self-examination – to ask oneself why the resistance to the unfamiliar? If one doesn’t do this, one will be caught in an intellectual comfort zone that comes across to the rest of the world as condescension and, yes, elitism.

This is the next task for you, my intellectual friend. Because I know you can do it. There are plenty of people in the world who don’t have your purview, your circumspection, your ability to see the bigger picture. They are counting on you to be a humble and compassionate leader.

Yes, the work is compassion. Because if we look at our resistance to the unfamiliar, it is always rooted in emotion – fear, guilt, shame, all of those things we think we’ve risen above. We haven’t. Quite.

The person you were frustratedly trying to reason with, earlier… that person is you. The person you see as woo-woo… is you.

For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you. – Walt Whitman

This is all just chatter. Just go read the poem again.