Most Republicans claimed it is self-evident that the January 6th Committee was conducting a witch hunt, and most Democrats contend that what is actually self-evident is that 45 is guilty of 91 criminal counts.

How can two tribes look at the same set of occurrences and come to very different conclusions? I regularly hear my progressive friends say, “I just don’t understand how those MAGAs can think that way.”

In 1967 Peter Berger came up with a concept he called plausibility structures, which he said are composed of values, experiences and perspectives in our heads that we have received from our cultural environments and which we use to determine the meaning of the millions of pieces of data that flood our senses every day.

Another way to say it is that different cohorts of people view “reality” through different lenses. What is self-evident, in other words, depends on which lens you are looking through.

Astronomers who look at reality through telescopes will never see amoebas. A scientist who looks through a microscope will never see the stars. The lens you use determines what you see. Believing is seeing.

MAGAs view elites from the perspective of the plausibility structure that frames them as the enemy, so when Donald Trump claims draining the swamp is what is needed, MAGAs respond, “You’re damned right.”

Progressives tend to be educated, urban, salaried workers and more secular, so they tend to respond to MAGAs’ inarticulate rage with reasonable logic and research data provided by the pointy-headed intellectuals MAGAs see as the cause of their misery.

Robin Wall Kimmerer, who wrote the book Braiding Sweetgrass, is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and at the same time has a PhD in botany, each with its own plausibility structure, each with its unique set of lenses through which she views the world.

She tells the story of going out to pick wild strawberries. The first thing she does when she arrives at the patch is to thank the plants for what they are about to give her, and she never picks every strawberry in the patch. The plausibility structure of indigenous people is to see plants and animals as family members to be respected and have relationships with. She even talks about listening to plants regarding what they have to teach us.

Kimmerer has more than one plausibility structure in her head, which enables her to view her experience through different lenses. Kimmerer, I think, would say it’s not either/or but both/and.

Sal Stella now has a white-collar position as director of Public Works in town, so he sees disputes from the point of management, but for 20 years he was a blue-collar guy and a union member in the same department, which enables him to empathize with the UAW workers who are on strike. He told me he has no problems when contracts are negotiated because both sides respect each other’s position. Stella is bifocal.

Folks who are newbies in Forest Park have not had the privilege of knowing Art Jones. Art had a PhD after his name and earned a six-figure salary which would have enabled him and his family to live almost anywhere. In some ways he was as “woke” as they come, but in other ways he had a blue-collar sensibility which led him to choose Forest Park as his hometown. You might say the guy was blue-and-red striped, not a melting pot purple, but a tossed salad composed of lots of perspectives held in tension, each retaining its own unique identity and flavor.

What was self-evident to Art was that red and blue perspectives are not contradictory but to be held in paradoxical tension. Compromise was not a four-letter word. Compromise is better than partisan wrangling, but what he strived for was a creative mix that did not pit one view against the other but aspired to respect all perspectives and thereby created solutions which made everyone feel like they have been heard.

Folks who are bifocal culturally tend to be bilingual when communicating. I’ve been to Thailand 13 times and have learned that to get what I want, it doesn’t help to repeat my desire over and over in English, each time more loudly than the last.

MAGAs tend to be every Sunday church-goers and Bible stories therefore are part of their plausibility structure. Progressives tend to be more secular and therefore don’t know their Bible well or even project anti-religion bias on religion. The implication, I think, is that if you are progressive, repeating progressive memes with passion won’t ring MAGAs’ chimes. But what many progressives don’t get is that the Bible is full of progressive stories, if they would only look for them. 

Maybe progressives who reject the authority of the Bible need to do some homework.

Instead of walking a mile in the other person’s moccasins, what if we thought for an hour inside the other person’s plausibility structure?