January 30, 2013 by eneubauer
I often lament about the devolution of conversation in American society. As a matter of fact I wrote a piece called, “The Middle Road” not long ago about the need for conversation in our hyper-polarized country. As I see it the real loss in demonizing our opponents is in the outcome. Simply stated, nothing gets done! But it doesn’t end there. Not only do we lose good outcomes in general but we lose the possibility of getting the best possible result because there is no debate. We are so busy painting our opponent in the worst possible light that we cannot hear a good idea if it smacked us directly in the face. Demonizing our opponents (or those we disagree with) causes others to distrust even if the substance of what is being said is positive or helpful.
This is a REAL problem:
Let me describe. I am naturally inquisitive and I enjoy learning. I have taken enough college and graduate level courses to know that I am not always the smartest cookie in the room. In addition, I recognize that people unlike me often see things from a different angle. This vantage point can be quite helpful. Therefore, if I choose to listen carefully to my opposition I find myself learning quite a bit even from folks that I disagree with politically, religiously, or economically etc. In order to learn you must first listen. If you cannot, will not, or do not learn to listen then you will fail in your academic (& other) endeavors.
Therefore, I have learned to think about what is being said without reacting. I have learned to take my view into the woodshed and work it over a bit before presenting it so that I do not make a fool of myself. Finally, I have learned that all of us need a safe place with people who care (from different vantage points) to air out the opinions and ideas we are formulating. Without this environment we are doomed to implement ideas that are LESS THAN.
In an era of war we have decided to be at war with our neighbors. Our society has lost respect for people who are religious or those holding on fast to the Judeo-Christian ethic. The partnerships that government and non-governmental / religious institutions used to enjoy are rapidly disappearing. Marginalization of groups representing different ideas creates a “circle the wagons” effect and a siege mentality. In order to combat perceived or real threats each group has to fight back with sufficient force. It is in the fight that we lose our ability to listen, learn, consider and ultimately make the kind of decisions that impact the common good of all men.
Loss of Conversation: No one is listening…
Political parties have so hijacked the process they no longer represent the people. Politicians spend time and money to convince people to adopt policies that were developed in back room deals where the idea of transparency is lost in an absolute sense. Businesses, in order to get and stay ahead, have moved backwards by putting profit above people. This diminishes the unemployed’s chances of acquiring and keeping a job with sufficient income to support his / her family. This attitude affects the poor and undereducated in a disproportionate fashion and creates burdens on government assistance programs that are unsustainable in the long-term. Academic institutions too have lost their way. Not only are they stifling academic freedom and opinion but they have fallen out of conversation with the American student with cost-shifting policies that force unusually high borrowing rates for the individual while money into the system grows at enormous rates.
What are the solutions?
First people have to agree to disagree. The idea that tolerance means that individuals with opposing ideas eventually agree is a distortion of the idea. Tolerance means that each side spends time listening to the other in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Then, in open debate, people from all different backgrounds can lobby or debate their view and the reasons why they came to a particular conclusion. In addition, debate forces us to consider the implications of a decision. Something we could learn from. If we say YES today what does that mean 10, 20 or 30 years from now? Can we live with that outcome? Is there a better way?
In addition, we have to restrain ourselves from forcing people to convert. In a religious context I have learned that questions people have about “conversion” have to come naturally. I can’t convince someone to accept a thing or idea but I can argue as to why an interested party might want to consider following the Way, the Truth, and the Life – Jesus Christ. Those who are not open or do not want to have a conversation should be respected.
At the same time the unconverted cannot put a public halt to these types of conversations nor drive the reality of history from our texts. The unconverted cannot and should not be allowed to drive religion or opposing political viewpoints from public consideration even if they have been in the minority since the founding of this nation. Although the unconverted or none’s may be on the ascendancy history is not kind to those who work at stifling opposing views. The consideration of a diversity of opinions and the open debate of ideas allows for good, long-term results.
As a person of faith, I have to remember that the rules that govern my life hang on the two great commandments. Have I loved God and my neighbor as I have loved myself? Often the answer is no. Religious people would do good to remember the true meaning of these commandments and whom they came from. In addition, sacred scripture reminds me that at the end of the day those I am debating were also made in the image and likeness of God and deserve dignity and respect which cannot be violated because of disagreement, dissension, or a lack of faith. I honor God and my commitment to Him when I treat everyone as I would like to be treated. It is in this context that those I come into contact with will see my passionate love relationship with the Holy Trinity and know that (even though they may disagree) my desire for the common good is a fact – an objective reality.
May God have mercy on us all…