Our country has two presumptive candidates for president who, historically speaking, each bear the highest disapproval rating of any person ever running for that office.
The state I live in and love enacted legislation over bathrooms (but really, more than that) that quickly riled up respective party bases and, in the span of just a couple of hours one day, saw the state and federal government sue each other in rapid succession.
My denomination has contended for nearly twenty years over the ordination of LGBT persons and same-sex marriage. The latter has prompted congregations like mine to address the issue head-on regarding church policy, leading to uncomfortable and anxiety-filled conversations. Or just avoiding conversation altogether.
And remember tow truck guy? About a month ago outside Asheville, a twenty-something motorist got stranded on I-26 and called for a tow truck. When tow truck guy got there he went back to hook the car up to his truck. And that’s when he noticed her bumper sticker promoting a presidential candidate he did not support. So he stopped what he was doing and told the motorist that he would not tow her car, told her why, and then just drove off, leaving her stranded on the side of the interstate. When the news of this eventually got to the press and they tracked down the guy, this is what he told them: “Something came over me, I think the Lord came to me, and he just said, get in the truck and leave. And when I got in my truck, I was so proud of myself for doing that.” (http://fox6now.com/2016/05/05/tow-truck-driver-leaves-woman-stranded-after-seeing-bernie-sanders-sticker/)
Somewhere along the line, we've lost something. At least it feels that way. It's not like we've batted .1000 when it comes to solving problems and quelling arguments. But something's been lost - perspective, maybe? We used to be better about keeping things in perspective. When we disagreed, it wasn't that big of a deal. Differences noted. We worked through things. We moved on.
But then it was like we got kindling and made a big pile, doused it with kerosene and set it aflame with one of these. Everything has become so combustible. Now, when someone expresses a thought or opinion different from our own, it's not that we just don't agree with it. We're offended. We take great offense at someone's diverging opinion, as if that opinion somehow injures us. And we've learned to lash out in emotion, stoking the fires; or shut down the conversation entirely, killing the flames but also dousing the wood with water and throwing dirt on the remains so the conversation is snuffed out.
And when we manage to have the conversation, it's all about winning the argument. Convincing the other person that they are wrong and we are right, and that they need to see things the way we do. They need to agree with us. They need to change.
It's a counter-productive and dangerous way to exist.
As a society our ability to engage in meaningful dialogue is disintegrating at a rapid pace. Blogger extraordinaire Seth Godin unpacks this beautifully:
The easiest way to disagree with someone is to assume that they are uninformed, and that once they know what you know, they will change their mind. (A marketing problem!)The second easiest way to disagree is to assume that the other person is a dolt, a loon, a misguided zealot who refuses to see the truth. Their selfish desire to win interferes with their understanding of reality. (A political problem!)
The third easiest way to disagree with someone is to not actually hear what they are saying. (A filtering problem!)
The hardest way to disagree with someone is to come to understand that they see the world differently than we do, to acknowledge that they have a different worldview, something baked in long before they ever encountered this situation. (Another marketing problem, the biggest one).
There actually are countless uninformed people. There are certainly craven zealots. And yes, in fact, we usually hear what we want to hear, or hear what the TV tells us, or hear what we expect, instead of hearing what was said, and the intent behind it. Odds are, though, that we will make the change we seek by embracing the hard work of telling stories that resonate, as opposed to dismissing the other who appears not to get it. (http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2013/10/the-easiest-way-to-disagree-with-someone.html_)
I'm not sure what the way out of this is (I'd love a few tips, as my next post will be about my thoughts on same-sex marriage and I know some folks won't agree with me). But I have to think it involves some or all of the following:
Letting go of fear.
Realizing you may not be as right as you think.
Realizing the value of someone else's thoughts, especially when they're different from yours.
Acknowledging that we have more in common than not.
Accepting that winning the argument is not the goal, having the conversation is.
Learning how to disagree agreeably.
None of that will instantly change our politics, churches, governments, or AAA service. But if we could make a habit of listening, loving, letting go, realizing, acknowledging, accepting and learning in all human interactions - well, I have to think that would help.
I think it's worth a shot. Wouldn't you agree?