Alone, Suburban & Sorted: Part 6, A Purple State of Mind

In this post I want to start moving from the analyses in The Big Sort to the final book in this series, The Great Good Place.

The object of this series thus far has been to highlight trends in America over the last 30 years that have profoundly affected our common life. Specifically, I want to highlight one major facet of contemporary life in America: We rarely encounter difference in any meaningful way. For two reasons noted thus far. First, we are alone. Our civic disengagement, particularly our lack of bridging connections, gives us fewer opportunities to encounter people who are different from us. Second, we are sorted. The migration patterns of Americans over the last 30 years have sorted us into communities of like-mindedness. Thus, even if I do mix with people in my community they are likely to be people very much like myself. People who share my voting preferences, my religious beliefs, and my skin color. Again, we fail to encounter difference in these homogeneous communities.

My concern with these trends is that we rarely get to practice the skills of welcome, debate, listening, inclusion and hospitality. We begin to find difference shocking, deviant, weird and effortful to live with. Worse, as the research on group polarization showed us, separated from difference we grow more extreme in our views, demonizing difference rather than listening and learning to make room for strangers.

As it happens, a wonderful example of the kind of conversation America needs arrived on our campus this week. A few days ago ACU hosted filmmaker Craig Detweiler and author John Marks on campus as Craig and Mark, across a variety of forums, shared their documentary film A Purple State of Mind. Craig and Mark were college roommates 25 years ago at Davidson College. It was Craig's first year in the Christian faith and Mark's last.

In A Purple State of Mind these former college roommates reconnect over the course of four dialogues, each filmed in a different city. Craig is a Christian and Mark is an agnostic. And across the four conversations these two college friends try to find common ground, searching for a place of purple between the red/blue divide running through America. The conversations are poignant, funny, honest and difficult. Through it all these two friends, each with very different worldviews, model honest conversation and the hard work of listening to difference.

Here are the first nine minutes of A Purple State of Mind:

The power of A Purple State of Mind is how it models what is needed in America today: The practices of honest conversation, principled but civil disagreement and the hard work of listening.

But I left watching A Purple State of Mind with some questions. First, where, exactly, are we to find these conversations? In our disengaged and sorted world these conversations are difficult to find. Second, Craig and Mark were friends and their friendship and common history helped them persist when the conversation got very difficult and confrontational. In short, purple conversations require a backdrop of relationality and trust. Two strangers could not do what Craig and Mark did. Thus, we are left with the familiar question: In a disengaged and sorted society where am I both to encounter difference and build relationship with difference? The answer, as I'll discuss next week, revolves around the issue of place.

Next Post: The Third Place

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

10 thoughts on “Alone, Suburban & Sorted: Part 6, A Purple State of Mind”

  1. I think that there is much value in honest and open dialogue, as it educates us all, even if exposing areas of ignorance. We should never limit difference in our democracy, as freedom of speech, the media, assembly, etc. protects the average citizen from abuses of power. And it is the prese's responsibility to seek our information, as well as give out information. The press should question, and not hold back their investigative skills in seeking the whys and wherefores.

    The discussion of religion is an important one, as it also enlarges the space of our hearts, as well as our minds. Dogmatism is so destructive.

    Perhaps, there should be forums across the country where scholars engage average citizens, believers and unbelievers, so that we will affirm the value of America's freedom of religion, as a value.

  2. "And it is the prese's responsibility to seek our information, as well as give out information. The press should question, and not hold back their investigative skills in seeking the whys and wherefores".

    Hello Angie,

    You've had really great posts all along this series (and recent series). I began reading your blog site. Thank you.

    When you mentioned the "press", I couldn't help but laugh to myself.
    To me, the "press" also represents another narrow homogeneous sector of society. I would argue that the "press" has contributed greatly to America's "sorted" dilemma.

    Gary Y.

  3. Excellent post. I agree totally. This could never have happened (at this point in our history) unless these two men were friends. I recently watched (on YouTube) a debate between Dr. Martin (a fundamentalist pastor) and Bishop John Shelby Spong. I was impressed by Spong's grace and Jesus-like demeanor compared to Martin's confrontational, judgemental attitude.

  4. Fundamentalism has a lot to loose and that is their whole identity. That is what causes the ire. Obviously, these two were not friends, so how did this exchange come about?

    I like Spong.

    Check this website out about a project that has spread from Houston (Mayor Bill White an ardent supporter) to other cities. I've attended one with an elderly Jewish couple, 4 Unitarian-Universalists, Baptist turned Episcopalian, a young college student reared in Asia by fundamentalist/evangelical missionary parents and hosted in the home of a Methodist couple, he reared Roman Catholic.

  6. Moral responsibility does not come about from religion. Religion is a limited viewpoint to moral choice. The "self" is a free agent, that should not be "determined" from the outside. This is the limited form of government that our coutnry was founded on. It is immoral to demand another to "do" another's will without agreement.

    I wrote about this on my blog site and C.A. Campbell's "Has the Self a Free Will" (Selfhood and Godhood, 1957). He says that our choice is an inner choice that has nothing to do with character, as character reduces the "self".

  7. When you speak of a 'purple state of mind", you are speaking in political terms, rather than the grey terms of intellectual understandings? (although I do not see how the way in which we understand the issues that play out into policy cannot be intellectural commitments of one kind or another.) in this sense, religion should be colorless, or color blind, as in separation of Church and State....

  8. I read somewhere that mediocrity was born of moderation. While I agree with that statemnt, as to the arts, in the political realm we must moderate. But, as we moderate our political positions, don't we looe our distinctives?

  9. Richard,

    In the Dallas area every first Friday evening of the month, a number of us gather for a salon at the Dallas Institute for Humanities and Culture for open conversation. We discuss a variety of matters, exchange opinions, and express our points of view. It is a safe "place," though not without risk for those set in their ways. Individuals don't often change their thinking, but they come away with their perspectives enriched. "Bridging" takes place and new friendships are sometimes made. It is a marvelous venue and I invite anyone in the area to be my guest at the Salon on 3 April or on 1 May.

    By the way, bridging can, I think, take place in cyberspace. But it is much better in an actual place precisely because we are embodied.


Leave a Reply