by Jeremy Street, PJALS member

Progressives will see a positive social sea-change when they start thinking and acting more like my father did.

He had his shortcomings, of course, but people listened to him and seriously considered what he said. He was a Lawyer for fifty years in California, president of the Monterey County Bar Association before I was born, nominated for a judgeship, and occasionally found himself to be an unwitting write-in candidate in various elections.

“Toby” as his friends called him, was a lifelong Republican. But although his perspective was conservative (in the old-school sense of the term), his friends included a wide range of people of differing perspectives, many of which were not from the business or legal realms where he spent his workdays. In fact, he was known to spend some of his time with artists and free-thinkers. I’m told that back when the canneries were still operating in Monterey he would gather with artists, thinkers, and occasional strangers at a friend’s bayside laboratory where they would drink the notorious “Lay Away Plan” and argue ideas sometimes for an entire weekend. I understand the “discussions” could get quite loud but were never really bitter. Toby and his friends considered ‘argument’ to be a method for discovering truth by chipping away falsehoods from each other’s thinking, not a way of winning a contest.

This little cluster of jovial friends and helpful adversaries became known as “The Lab Group” and I understand Salvador Dali visited once or twice, and Joseph Campbell attended a few times before anyone knew his name.

In the early 1970s, while I was visiting a high school friend’s house for the first time, his father, also an attorney, told me his first case in Monterey had been against my father and that “Toby, while dramatic, was so gracious that it was almost a pleasure to lose to him.”

The point here is that it is possible to be loud and vehement and persuasive in discussions without being vitriolic and self-righteous. And, that one can and should value and respect an apparent opponent and can effectively convey that gracious attitude across any line of disagreement. Learning and practicing that discipline is something I believe we would benefit from greatly.

There is much jeering at the unconverted by us progressives, and this angry habit subverts our intentions because it fuels opposition and never converts anyone. Would we rather dominate opponents or convert non-believers? The same people can be seen as enemies or as unconverted brothers and sisters depending on how we wish to view them.

And just as the skills of battle are summoned by the love of domination, the skills of conversion will be summoned by the love of love.