I’m thinking of the custom we had as children of holding our fingers in our ears and shouting “La, la, la, la, la, la, la” as loud as we could, over and over again until the other person decided it was useless to try to speak to us anymore. That childish behavior, however, has no room in our adult repertoire. Yet, as we’ve seen in the presidential debates, in the behaviors of Congress, and in the reactions to people of other religions, there is no chance for the other to be heard when our adult behavior has the same effect as plugging up our ears. One way not to listen is to imply that the other person is wrong and doesn’t need to be given a hearing, or that to be so sure that you are right, you don’t need to listen to anyone else. Ignorance is never bliss. It leads to factions, wars, disputes, even painful fractures in our relationships.

Singing “La, la, la” on the playground, with our fingers in our ears, can be forgiven as childhood insecurity. As adults, we are called upon to live in dialogue with the people around us, the world around us, and with the differences we perceive from other people, other religions, and countries. We are called to be open to the truth wherever it may be found.

Even without the Ten Commandments, or fire and brimstone preaching, we all know within us what isn’t right, what we don’t want done to us so that we don’t do it to others. In this month when we celebrate the birth of our country, we must remember that the goals set by our Founding Fathers, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr., and others are goals and not achievements. We are always striving to get closer to our goals, but in each generation we fall short in one way or another. After the Civil War, white Americans immediately began figuring out how to change the laws so that the freedoms for black people would still be restricted. The patriarchal culture still professed the fallacy that women were the weaker sex and thus not allowed to vote or pursue higher education. Some religions, using God or sacred texts to back them up, continue to persecute gays, lesbians and transgender peopl, assuming that harming them is a lesser offense than harming others or maybe no offense at all.

The Unconditional Love of the Divine is best expressed in the recent comments by Pope Francis when speaking to reporters. He said that the church should ask forgiveness for the way it has treated women, for turning a blind eye to child labor and for blessing so many weapons in the past. He also said that the church should seek forgiveness from gays for the way the church has treated them. Again, this is a goal as well as a beacon from Pope Francis showing that compassion is more important than judgment.

We are all on our personal journeys and if we are still alive, we haven’t arrived at a state of perfection and need to continually evaluate our behaviors, words, choices, etc. The only person we can judge is ourselves as we examine our consciences and see where we have fallen short. We don’t do this to beat ourselves up or get depressed, but to take stock and to increase our intentions for how we want to live our lives. We can never say I am the ideal person. We are all works in progress. In the same way, we cannot say that the ideal America exists, but we can always work to achieve our goals and aspirations for this country. When I face the reality of my life and my desire to grow spiritually, I make choices to progress on the path. So too, when we face the reality of our country, we know that there is much room for growth to reach the ideals we aspire to. As we pray each day for wisdom and insight to follow a path of integrity, let us also pray for this country and its peoples that we may grow in wisdom, compassion and generosity.

Helen Rousseau is an interfaith minister. Her website is at www.helenrousseau.com.