Can we talk?
October 19, 2007
My wife is a psychotherapist. She talks with people. There’s more to her practice than just talking, but it’s a vital part of the process. Talking is therapeutic. It’s like opening windows in a musty room to the cleansing rays of the sun. I’m a man, and according to the archetype, men don’t talk as much as they probably should. Talking is not often our strong point and that grates on women, who claim we take refuge deep inside the musty rooms of our minds. One of the big adjustments I made in marriage was learning how to talk with my wife. It helped that she is a psychotherapist and was able to coach me. Ever since I started to open up, I have been grateful, because talking is healthy. It’s healthy for a lot of people. If I can talk, then so can George W. Bush. He’s a man with a tough-guy image, but he’s also a world leader who needs every relationship skill he can muster. God knows there are issues in which Bush could communicate in more meaningful ways than with name-calling and militaristic hubris. Bush might start by talking to the American people – honestly talking. Enough with the scripted speeches, George: Just get down to the basic truths and talk to us as if you cared. That’s my advice, and I’m not even a psychotherapist – just a citizen and a voter who wants to hear it straight from the CEO. There are a few other people Bush ought to talk with. Try al-Qaida. Something needs to move the impasse in relations with those whom Bush names as public enemy No. 1. U.S. relations with al-Qaida and the entire Muslim world are a huge musty room that needs airing. A recent article from Reuters suggests that it’s time for America to talk with al-Qaida, as repugnant as that may seem. The reasons for dialogue are sound because, frankly, we’re not getting anywhere with the current debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to Reuters correspondent Mark Trevelyan, “Proponents say al-Qaida has established itself as a de facto power, whether the West likes it or not, and history shows militant movements are best neutralized by negotiation, not war.” Trevelyan quotes former Anglican church envoy and hostage negotiator Terry Waite, who says warfare and violence are futile as means toward peaceful coexistence with conflicting ideologies. Negotiation – sincere and honest – is the key. When Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at Columbia University recently, it was an affront to many. Still, it quelled part of the sinister mystery of the man by opening the musty room of his thoughts to the world, and especially the U.S.According to Joe Klein of Time magazine, “Ahmadinejad’s appearance was a small but telling moment in the overhyped crisis that is George W. Bush’s so-called war on terrorism. The Iranian’s words had no practical, only symbolic, global import.” What America heard from Ahmadinejad calmed fears of his authority as a demigod. His speech served to diminish his power. The same could happen through an open dialogue with al-Qaida by illuminating the group and removing its shroud of mystery. Ahmadinejad has challenged Bush to a debate, and I can think of nothing better for unveiling the foibles of both men. An honest dialogue would be far more productive than the saber-rattling that defines our diplomacy to date. I like to think of us humans as intelligent people who can sidestep violence with diplomacy. I believe that war is a failure of leadership, on both sides of a dispute. But peaceful relations don’t often happen without an open dialogue, a frank conversation. A lot of Americans may not want to talk with al-Qaida, but unless we do, the costs of armed conflict and the uncertainty of the future will create a far less secure world. Can we talk, now? Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays.