THE BLOG

A Better Medium

04/04/2011 04:24 pm ET | Updated Jun 04, 2011

There is legitimate concern about the future of journalism. Economics and technology have swept away much of the knowledge we need to run a country. Blessedly there are many alternatives to the half-truths of commerce. Two that come immediately to mind are the New Yorker and your neighbor.

Conversations with real people often provide better and more useful information than our over-wrought media. Mr. Adam was at our door a couple days ago. He came to update our termite bond and left me a bit wiser.

Talking with him as he poked around our walls and foundation, I learned, among other things, that he had lived on Canada's Victoria Island. He looked back fondly on that time because "You don't have to worry about things. You can just ... live." He also said that his family has traveled the world. "Military?" I asked, knowing that, historically, people of color have often defaulted to the military when no one else is hiring at a living wage.

"Oh, no. We're Baha'i."

Baha'is care for needy people, not kill them, he wanted me to know. Peace, the Baha'i teach, is both essential and attainable -- a worthy goal.

And here's where my own serious learning began: The organizing principle of Baha'i is justice. Plain and simple.

Well, not so plain, more powerful than simple. They deem justice transformative. Their international "House of Justice" draws pilgrims from around the world to Haifa. Justice is also central in Baha'is' everyday lives. Result: women and men are equal ("like the two wings of a bird," Mr. Adam beamed). Decision making at all levels is done by elected bodies and no one individual is elevated above the others. That means no clergy. And a whole lot more -- or less.

We had no termites. He certainly was not proselytizing and I'm not a prospect anyway. So our visit didn't last long. But it was plenty. It opened a way to talk about the responsibilities of living in a democracy. Plus, Mr. Adam brightened my day. It's encouraging (note "courage") to know that at least one of the world's faith traditions puts justice* where it belongs: front and center.

Regular people (natural people, NOT artificial ones, i.e., corporations) are the bones and the marrow of self-government. I get this kind of nourishment a lot from "the least of these." No pretenses, just grounded wisdom. Every time, I realize how crucial it is to engage with others, especially with people who are not "like" me. But talking is not enough. Mostly, we do well to listen.

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*In a conversation about his book Democracy Matters, Cornel West said to us that the unique opportunity America has looking forward is to unite our traditions: "democratic dialog" from the Greek tradition, "tragi-comic hope" from the African-American tradition and "justice" coming from the Jewish tradition. Without justice, democracy is a fraud.

In The Genesis of Justice, Alan Dershowitz argues that the book of Genesis traces Yaweh's evolution from a vengeful, tribal deity into the arbiter of justice to which Cornel West refers.