March 25, 2019 | Heads' Blog
Spring Break Reflections

Spring Break gave me the much-appreciated opportunity to catch up on some reading. With today’s political climate being so polarizing, I was eager to read different perspectives on the causes of and solutions for this polarization which seems to be fueled by members of both major political parties..

Motive Attribution Asymmetry

I had previously studied “confirmation bias” theory — the notion that we we tend to gravitate toward ideas and writings that confirm our already held perspectives. But for the first time, I read recently about “motive attribution asymmetry”. This is the assumption— which sadly seems to be held today by more and more people— that “my ideology is based in love, while [my] opponent’s is based in hate….” (see “Our Culture of Contempt” by Arthur C. Brooks, The New York Times). Arthur Brooks, author of the soon to be published Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt argues that America’s biggest problem today is not incivility, but something much more troubling— contempt— which he describes as a “noxious brew of anger and disgust”. He goes on to say that we need “not to disagree less, but to disagree better” (A. Brooks, NYT, 3/3/2019).

And this is where Palm Beach Day Academy’s educational philosophy and commitment to community comes in. We must be more dedicated than ever to carrying out our almost century-old purpose of nurturing within our students, true respect for the dignity of all as well as the ceaseless search for understanding fully competing and complex ideas. Implicit in our school’s enduring purposes is grasping the importance — as Arthur Brooks reminds us — of responding to the meanness we all experience from time to time with forbearance, reason, and honesty.

The O’Connor Court

Connected to Arthur Brooks’s counsel were articles I was privileged to read about our first female U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O’Connor, whom one fellow justice described as the “glue”— the colleague who made The Court more civil (see this NPR article). Evan Thomas, who is releasing an extensive biography on Justice O’Connor, tells us that for many of her 25 years as a Judge on our nation’s highest court, it was known as the O’Connor Court. She was almost always in the majority and wrote many majority opinions. Evan Thomas identifies 5 principles which consistently governed O’Connor’s work and leadership on the Supreme Court (see this Wall Street Journal article):

  1. LISTEN: She would listen intently— with her whole being. And, she would create multiple opportunities to listen and build relationships by sitting down over meals with her associates – her judicial colleagues and her law clerks.
  2. GIVE A LITTLE: Be willing to compromise in the interest of the public and common good.
  5. BE GRATEFUL AND SHOW IT: As a female graduating in the early 1950’s with honors from Stanford Law School, she could not get an interview, much less a job, with an established private law firm. She naturally found this reality disappointing and troubling; however, she was ultimately grateful for this disappointment because it forced her to look for work in the public sector where she had and enormously fulfilling career and made extraordinary contributions.

My hope would be that through our day-to-day work at PBDA and important traditions like our “Lead with Honor” Program, we are teaching and modeling these time-tested principles of leadership and service.


An Agenda for Moderates

Finally, I came across an inspiring piece by another favorite writer, David Brooks (his Road to Character is one of my favorite books). In his The New York Times piece, “An Agenda for Moderates”, Brooks writes eloquently of “four affections that bind our society”, regardless of our political philosophies or party loyalties:

  1. We are bound together by our love of our children.
  2. We are bound to society by our work.
  3. We are bound together by our affection for our place.
  4. We are bound together by our shared humanity.

David Brooks closes this piece with these profound words: “Moderation is not an ideology; it is a way of being. It stands for humility of the head and ardor in the heart. When you listen to your neighbor, you see how many perspectives there are and you’re intellectually humble in the face of that pluralism. When you listen to your neighbor, you see that deep down we’re the same and you hunger to deepen that connection…. The moderate seeks the beloved community.”

May PBDA be that school that steadfastly strives to exemplify “humility of the head and ardor in the heart.” Let us also aspire to be what Brooks calls the “magnetic idea” of “beloved community” which each of us has a responsibility for making possible.

Billy Peebles