Recently, my Facebook feed is full of links to blog posts featuring charged comments on controversial issues. I think that spirited discourse is important. There are important social and political issues that need to be hashed out through the various discussions.
At the same time, I do get a bit weary of it all sometimes. I am not advocating censorship or telling people to shut up and be quiet. But everyone seems so quickly offended and enraged. Everything seems to bring such highly-charged, deeply-fraught responses. So-and-so writes a post about something that is important to him/her. It goes viral as those that agree like it into viral status.
However, it inevitably bothers someone who sees the world differently. A day or two later, one of these folks writes a rebuttal, which soon becomes viral as well. And so hunker down, lobbing viral blog grenades at our foes from the safety of our foxholes.
Again, it's not that I question anyone's right to do this. And I don't mean to say it's somehow wrong.
But part of me wonders if it's wise. Or helpful.
Do we ever change any minds with this viral blog grenades? Or do we just feel good in hearing our position articulated and reinforced? Does it make us feel good to think that no one in their right mind could possibly disagree with this latest post?
It all seems a bit tiring to me.
A colleague at work has political opinions so different from mine that I don't know if there is any common ground. And yet, this person is a good and honest soul. A hard worker, kind, helpful, and devoted to family.
On which experience should I base my relationship with this person? To which should I give the deciding vote? Our ideological differences, or all the goodness in this person's heart and actions?
This person and I will likely never see eye-to-eye on some issues. But this is not the crazy, maniac that my ideological compatriots would paint all our foes to be.
And this person is my friend.
I watched a great old movie the other night. "Friendly Persuasion" with Gary Cooper. He plays the father of a Quaker family during the Civil War. Their pacifistic beliefs are put to the test as the war comes very close. At one point, when confronted by enemy soldiers, Gary Cooper says something to the effect of, "No man is my enemy." That's a cool thought.
As we argue about all these things, can we stop for a minute and take a breath? I know it sounds hopelessly naive to suggest we see each other as humans and not as advocates or specific positions and policies.
But if I were to discard my friendship with my colleague because we disagree on some things, I woud lose a treasure.
I participated recently in an email discussion about a sensitive topic. Highly intelligent people (who were somehow kind enough to include me) had a respectful, thoughtful conversation. We didn't all agree. I strenuously disagree with some of what was said. But, there was no name calling nor lobbing rhetorical bombshells. While my basic position remains unchanged, I learned a great deal and came away with much to consider. I was enriched, not diminished by the conversation.
So, wanting to do make changes I hope to see, here's my commitment.
If you are my friend who is a Christian fundamentalist, a lesbian feminist, a liberal democrat, a constitutional conservative, you are my friend. If you believe marriage is between a man and woman, or if you believe it should be anything that two consenting adults choose, at the end of the day, you are my friend.
If you are my friend and you hate Common Core or think it's the best thing ever, you are my friend. If you hope Obamacare crashes and burns, or think it's our last best hope, you are my friend.
Whatever labels your ideological baggage carries, and however that baggage differs in shape and appearance from mine, let's first and foremost be friends. Seriously.
Does that sound trite? Let me explain what I think it means.
I will listen to you. I will try to understand. When I disagree with you, I will attempt to do it with clarity, but with kindness, realizing that my views are formed by the same fallible means as yours. And when I fail, as I certainly will, I will apologize.
I will not require your conformity to my ideas as the price of my respect or friendship. I will not conflate disagreement with bad faith or stupidity. I will see being exposed to differing ideas as the price of your friendship, one I am willing to pay, and see it as a feature, not a bug.
If you post something on Facebook with which I disagree, I'll try to ignore it. If I just can't do that for some reason, I'll try to understand the point and see if there is any common ground. I will resist the urge to fire back, remembering that Thumper's mother's advice is probably still the best in most situations. If I simply can't resist responding, I will at least do so by engaging your ideas, not your motives or personal goodness. And I won't pick fights with your other friends and embarrass you.
Don't get me wrong. I have beliefs. I am not mushy about them. I think I am right and I will work to support the causes and organizations that advance my beliefs. I will express them when I feel I should.
But I don't think the gap between our political, theological, cultural, or other beliefs ought to be the defining aspect of our relationship.
I will realize that when I post on your wall, or comment on your posts, I am essentially a guest in your virtual home and ought to allow you your own taste. It seems to me that many of us would never walk into a house and say, "What an ugly painting. How can you stand this awful color of carpet? What idiot would possibly like that style of couch?" And yet we do that all the time with our reactions to various online pieces.
If you are my friend, I will do (or not do) these things. If you are mine, perhaps you can reciprocate.
But whether or not you do, I think this is how I will try to live my life, both on- and off-line. Writing this publicly is my commitment. Feel free to hold me accountable. That is what a friend would do.
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