Sunday, January 3, 2010

Can We Talk?

Put sixteen very different, broadly representative members of the greater Boston community together in a room and start them discussing the most emotive, profound questions you can think of. Is freedom more important than dignity? What is death? What counts as a violation of privacy? Shut the door and start the clock. How long until security needs to be called in?

In fact, my experience at the Community Ethics Committee has boosted my confidence in the possibility of genuine, constructive communication across religious, racial, age, and class spectrums about some of the pressing moral issues of our time. Naturally, sometimes we find we need to backtrack and redefine our terms – “Wait. How are we using the word ‘consent’ here?” Some questions are so thorny that we might need to go back to our communities, sleep on them (the questions, not the communities), and meet again to have another go. Often we need further input from health care providers and patients at the sharp end of all this deliberation. Of course total consensus is a rare bird, but the CEC manifests a respectful, tolerant, and frank exploration of fundamental differences that should make any believer in democracy blush with pleasure.

As one with a professional commitment to fostering effective communication, and as one jaded by the quality of much contemporary political debate, I welcome the CEC. Heck, as a human being with hope in our capacity to reason, I welcome it. Thank you, Community Ethics Committee.

Julian Willard, CEC member, 1/2/10