We are facing a profound challenge to our nation’s tradition of respectful and engaged discourse.  For us to live up to our Founders’ vision of self-governance and a constitutional democracy that is “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” we have some important work to do.  And that work starts with appreciating what former Colorado Governor Roy Romer often said: “all truth is partial.”

In today’s hyper-polarized environment, there is too little listening and too little collaborative problem-solving in our politics.  A virus that prevents collaboration—and creative problem solving—is that people are often more interested in winning an argument than solving a problem.  Or put differently, it is possible that two people can both be right—looking at different sides of an issue where both see part of the truth—and yet neither individual is able to see what the other is seeing.

To appreciate why “you don’t have to be wrong for me to be right,” as one author put it, consider a mathematical equation that recently went viral:  8 ÷ 2(2+2) = ?  Depending on how you approach this problem, the answer is either 16 or 1.  And both answers are correct, as explained in this article.

For many in our society, it is not common to hear a political leader acknowledging the truth in the argument of someone from an opposing party.  But politics should not be a world of religious views where rival tribes fight it out to the death. It should be a search for truth, for common ground, and for solutions that make the world a better place.

At its best, religion, too, recognizes that all truth is partial.  Many religious traditions are fond of noting that only the Creator sees all truth; humans can only grasp a glimpse of it.  That’s why in the Talmud, which captures hundreds of years of debate among leading rabbis, there is a common refrain of two rabbis arguing a point, only to settle the issue by concluding “they are both right.”

In the scientific world, the concept of two opposing truths is also a familiar one.  Most famously, the argument as to whether light travels in waves or particles was settled by concluding “it’s both.”  And as Niels Bohr famously concluded, “The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.”  

It is not an accident that our politics are abandoning this awareness at the same time that our society is struggling with pluralism.  A politics that stokes fears of integration, that rallies against inclusion, and that insists one group is supreme is a threat to the American project of self-governance.  In a recent article, David Brooks defended inclusion and pluralism, explaining that:

“Pluralists believe that culture mixing has always been and should be the human condition. All cultures define and renew themselves through encounter. A pure culture is a dead culture while an amalgam culture is a creative culture. The very civilization the white separatists seek to preserve was itself a product of earlier immigration waves.”

Finally, pluralism is the adventure of life. Pluralism is not just having diverse people coexist in one place. It’s going out and getting into each other’s lives. It’s a constant dialogue that has no end because there is no single answer to how we should live.

Our Founding motto is “E Pluribus Unum,” out of many, one.  This spirit captures why we have historically seen immigration—and new waves of people and viewpoints—as a strength.  The attacks on this spirit present an existential challenge to our society and to our democracy. I believe we shall overcome this challenge, as we did in earlier ones, such as the fight for civil rights and equal justice for all.  But that will only be true because engaged citizens elevate our politics and live our values at a challenging time for our nation. I will continue to do my part and believe Colorado will be a model for our nation.