There is, perhaps, no topic in the United States right now that is more controversial than immigration. Everyone has an opinion, and seemingly everyone is convinced that their answer to the problem is not only the right answer; it’s the only answer. This polarizing righteousness (present in our culture and modeled by our politicians) often results in people trying to solve complex problems with simple solutions and then manipulating, distorting, or inventing “facts” to support their position.
For example, many of those less sensitive to immigrants often use anecdotal information and selective statistics to portray immigrants as people who pose a threat to the United States and base their solutions to the issue on that perception. On the other hand, many who are sensitive to the plight of immigrants often base their solutions on exceptional cases – cases that, while compelling, are but a small part of the immigration issue.
This simplistic thinking, this inability and/or unwillingness to see immigration for the complex issue it is, results in simplistic and unrealistic solutions – solutions that range from “build a wall and deport those who are undocumented” to “open the borders and let everyone in.” It also ignores the fact that implementing these simple solutions would create additional problems.
We often apply simple solutions to complex issues because they make us feel better, more right. The downside, of course, is that they don’t move the discussion forward in a constructive manner. We find ourselves defending ineffective solutions rather than talking about the issue and the underlying values of the issue.
So how should we approach a complex issue such as immigration? St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, would advocate practicing “indifference.” By ‘indifference,’ Ignatius meant the ability to identify and suspend our biases and to pray to see the issue without prejudice. I have a friend who used to rail against a particular politician until I told him, “I’ll listen to anything you have to say against him if you’ll start by telling me something he’s done that’s good.” He couldn’t; he couldn’t suspend his bias and be ‘indifferent.’
For me, praying for indifference about immigration helped me in two specific ways. First, when I set my opinions aside, I was able to better understand and appreciate perspectives that were different from my own. Complex issues have valid points on both sides; neither extreme can claim absolute truth. That’s what makes these issues complex. Second, it helped me identify my core values relative to this issue, and core values, not solutions, are typically where effective communication starts.
My interactions with people I disagree with on the issue of immigration have changed dramatically since I started trying to be more indifferent. I’ve had a number of productive conversations about immigration – conversations about the value of human life, the role empathy plays on both an individual and national level, and the realistic effects various potential actions would have. These conversations have been productive because they’ve been rooted in values, values that are most often common to both parties. So instead of defending a position or an action, we are often able to identify potential action steps that grow out of the values we share. We don’t try to solve the problem; we try to agree on “first steps” toward making things better. That’s progress.
I admit I haven’t completely changed others’ minds about our country’s immigration policies and practices; nor have they completely changed mine. But we’ve had civil conversations that have resulted in greater understanding and agreement on some first step actions. That kind of progress, rooted in an attempt to be indifferent and invite others to be as well, is far more effective than drawing a line in the sand and advocating extreme and simplistic solutions. If only those we elect (from both parties) could be more “indifferent.”
Executive Director of the Ignatian Spirituality Center/Director of Ignatian Formation and Teacher at Seattle Preparatory School
Matt has worked in Jesuit high schools for 36 years and has been the Executive Director of the ISC for the past two. For Matt, trying to apply Ignatian Spirituality to everyday life poses some of life’s greatest challenges and, at the same time, presents some of life’s greatest rewards.