Peace, Love, and Understanding

I watched a Twitter firestorm yesterday.
In the scope of the entire “twitterverse,” as they call it, it’s probably small potatoes. But this particular storm made my heart hurt and got me thinking (again) about the nature of communication and the prevalence of misunderstanding, as well as the resolute “your opinion doesn’t actually matter”-ness of contemporary American culture.

We are obsessed with being heard.
I submit, as evidence, the existence of Twitter in the first place and the very existence of this blog.

Sometimes, wanting to be heard is justified as there have been many marginalized voices in our country (and in our churches) and amplifying those voices is appropriate. But being heard, I’d argue, is not enough. We want to be understood.

But being understood is much, much more difficult. And understanding requires much more work than most of us are willing to put forth–especially for the sake of strangers.

At one point, a hallmark of liberalism was open-mindedness and the ability to tolerate a difference of opinion. But most modern-day liberals have no interest in either of those things. Liberalism’s new cousin–progressivism–is a different animal entirely and is just as intolerant and other-phobic as its original enemy: conservatism.

I mean this criticism in good humor because I have plenty of friends and family on both sides of the equation and I think most of them (ha!) are decent people with good intentions. I would gladly defend them to their opposition if the need arose but, if I’m honest, I’ll admit that they are most all plagued by an inability to understand each other.

In fact, most of us are.

The twitter “fight” I saw yesterday was between a prominent Christian thinker/writer and a contingent of his personal and ideological critics. It was an honest-to-goodness “cluster****,” as they say, and it was ugly.

I know it’s not really my job to moderate the conversations between strangers, but I always feel like I need to do it. People are just so unfair to each other, often attributing only the worst of intentions to their opposition. They are inflammatory. Derogatory. Absurd and dishonest. All the while, they assert their own personal integrity and moral superiority.

I’ve done it too.
There have been times when my disagreements were so intense and I was so indignant and proud that I stood by things I did or said that I should have never done or said, even after I knew they were wrong to do or say. And it didn’t matter a lick to me how my words or actions affected the people around me. All I wanted was to win. And I most definitely did not want to learn from someone else or change.

But, see, I’ve also been on the other side.
My words have been twisted into something I never intended. I’ve been called names I didn’t deserve to be called. I’ve had friends become enemies because of what they heard instead of what I actually said. And I’ve felt that terrible, aching feeling of being deeply misunderstood.

Empathy is not my strong suit, but I empathize with those who feel misunderstood, whether it’s because they are simply not good with words or because they’ve been backed into a rhetorical corner by someone who is better. It feels terrible. And it’s a terrible thing to do to someone.

Our disagreements aren’t going away anytime soon. Polarization seems to be the flavor of our culture today. And though I am not the arbiter of mutual understanding, I can’t walk by such ugly fighting without at least suggesting the rules change. If we don’t practice a little ideological empathy, we will eventually be incapable of actually hearing anyone the way they intend to be heard. And that will be a sad, sad world indeed.

 

 

 

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Seven Truths About Conservatives

Us vs Them.
In popular culture (and in popular media), the presentation of social and political issues would make you believe that all controversy comes down to this, right?

“Either you’re for us or you’re against us.”

Sometimes it’s easier to simplify complex issues and controversy by minimizing our enemies than it is to approach our differences with a generous and open mind. In Cincinnati these days, the political climate is quite hostile. A few key issues (namely, the streetcar) may have perpetuated the Us vs Them dichotomy, but the dichotomy between “Progressives” and “Conservatives” is not new. Regardless of the issue in question (the streetcar, healthcare, gay marriage, etc.) there is a lot that we assume about the people on the other side. Most of these assumptions are based on stereotypes and, though we know that stereotypes are often true, they are unfair.

While working in the secular nonprofit world, I’ve always been one of the most conservative–both socially and politically–of my peers. And, though I’ve never considered myself an “apologist” for Conservatism, it’s been necessary at times to step in and speak on behalf of other Conservatives. Even those with whom I disagree.

And, that’s the point.
If it’s possible for me to consider myself a Conservative, yet still disagree on certain issues with my conservative brethren, then it’s safe to assume that there is more diversity on all sides than we’d like to acknowledge. I’m sure there are just as many Progressives who could tell you the same story.

So, let me offer an oft-needed reminder of seven truths about Conservatives that every Progressive should know.

1. We are not your enemies. Although some of the loudest voices among us call you names and reduce you to the ignominious “Them,” they do not speak for all of us. Many Conservatives are interested in cooperation and are willing to work together with you.

2. Conservatives want a better world, too. You may disagree with them about what a “better world” looks like, or how to get there, but you should not assume that those worlds can’t co-exist. Sit across the table from an articulate, passionate Conservative and you might be surprised by how much you actually have in common. Many of them are motivated by the same things you are, things like a safe community, a peaceful world, millions of full bellies, and a thriving economy.

3. Most Conservatives are not wealthy. You may think that all people with a conservative bent are only out to protect their pocketbooks, corporations, and investments, but that’s simply not true. My guess is that most of the folks who stand on the conservative side on social and political issues are working-class and middle-class citizens. They might not be “the poor,” but they are definitely not wealthy by American standards. And this is why they often vote against issues that raise taxes. They are often the ones who are on a fixed budget and are most affected by small changes in tax rates.

4. Conservatives give generously. Progressives think that Conservatives are stingy and selfish and hate poor people. But that characterization is unfair. Sure, many Conservatives give to faith-based organizations instead of secular ones. Sure, many of them are donating more money to their church than they do to their neighborhood homeless shelter. But, conservative individuals and organizations are meeting needs in every corner of the world, from clean water in the Third World to medical care in large metropolitan areas to GED tutoring in the poor urban core. The reason Conservatives don’t support socialized medicine or government assistance and subsidies is not because they don’t want to give their money to support good works, but because they’d like to have more control over how their money is spent and how that work is done.

5. Not all Conservatives are trigger-happy war mongers. Let’s be reasonable here. George Zimmerman does not speak for everyone who is passionate about 2nd Amendment rights. And not all people who support US involvement in wars do so because they profit from those wars or love the feel of blood on their hands. These issues are more complex than that and we do ourselves a disservice when we write them off as having simple solutions.

6. Sometimes, Conservatives are right. You can learn a lot from people who are different from you. If you care at all about being right, not simply winning an argument, it might be in your best interest to take some time to understand what Conservatives really believe and think. Find a Conservative that you respect and ask their opinion about something, not for the sake of debating but for the sake of understanding. You might be surprised to find that your new friend knows something that you don’t. Let down your guard, give them the benefit of the doubt, and try to learn something.

7. Sometimes, Conservatives are wrong. Yes, just like you, sometimes Conservatives are wrong. But do you think you will ever change someone’s mind by minimizing their opinion? If you are unwilling to sit across the table and peaceably discuss an issue with a Conservative you, frankly, don’t deserve their time. This should be a no-brainer, but if you want the opportunity to change someone’s mind, you need to show them the same courtesy that you’d expect from them.

All seven of these things might seem obvious but they’re things we need to be reminded of every once and a while, especially in times when the “Us vs Them” narrative dominates the political scene. This is true in Cincinnati right now and true elsewhere, as well.