Doug W. Kmiec, Caruso Family Chair in Constitutional Law and former U.S. Ambassador to Malta, presented a lecture at the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue on November 13 as part of their TED conference. His deeply personal lecture, titled "Love Your Enemies, Kill Your Friends, Hate Your Life," promoted civility and finding the common ground in public and private discourse.
"This was a really remarkable opportunity to participate in a program like this," Kmiec notes. "People were responsive to the importance of seeing our way toward a politics of civility—a politics that raises each other up by finding the common ground among us, while at the same time using that common ground to get to the common good."
One of Kmiec's favorite quotes comes from the James Stewart classic movie, Harvey (1950), in which Stewart's character, Elwood P. Dowd, says, "In this world, you must be oh so smart, or oh so pleasant. Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant."
In recent years particularly, Kmiec has lived by this code and wanted to explore it in the context of politics.
"Politics has become such a toxic exchange of accusations; there is no 'forgiveness' for differences and certainly no love of ones competitor or even respect," Kmiec comments. "I do believe it is partly driven by the blogosphere, where hate is the given go-to response."
Delving into very personal territory in his lecture, Kmiec used autobiographical details to back up his points, drawing on two very different experiences. The first was when, in 2008, he openly supported the future President Barack Obama, and authored the book Can a Catholic Support Him? Asking the Big Questions About Barack Obama. He was famously denied communion as a result.
The second was a tragic incident in August 2010, when the car he was driving crashed into a drainage ditch in Malibu Canyon, killing his friends and passengers Sister Mary Campbell, from Our Lady of Malibu Catholic Church, and Pastor Emeritus Monsignor John Sheridan.
"There is not a moment wen I don't think about John and Mary," Kmiec reflects. "I realized I have no entitlement to my life now and that I can't make sense in things that detract from the good—in power, pursuit of wealth, hatred, or incivility. My experiences in the last four years confirms Elwood Dood's statement."
He adds that he doesn't seek to promote a foregoing of intellectual discourse, but instead to encourage that "in the moment, to try to understand and love your opponent, and be kind. More will come from that than we know."
TED is a nonprofit devoted to "Ideas Worth Spreading," founded in 1984 as a conference bringing together people from, initially, the three worlds of technology, entertainment, and design, though it has since expanded.
"The diversity of thought at this conference was so impressive," says Kmiec. "We looked at the advent of Internet communications and how this permits individualized broadcasting, and the impact that has locally and internationally. There was a presentation on robots that can learn behavior. There were wonderful musical presentations by young singers from the community. There were artists, musicians, scientists...and even the occasional ambassador."