January 30, 2013 by eneubauer
I often lament 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 discussion in our hyper-polarized country. The real loss in demonizing our opponents is the outcome. Simply stated, nothing gets done! 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 can’t hear a good idea if it smacked us 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 from folks that I may disagree with politically, religiously, or economically etc.
In order to learn, we must first listen. If you cannot, will not, or do not learn to listen then you will fail in your academic, business and other endeavors.
Therefore, I am learning to think about what is being said without reacting. I am learning to take my view into the woodshed and work it over a bit before presenting it. Finally, I have learned that all of us need a place with people who care (but represent different vantage points) to air out the ideas we are formulating. Without this environment, we are doomed to implement ideas that are LESS THAN what they could be.
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. 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 this 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 developed in backroom deals where transparency is lost in an absolute sense. Businesses, in order to get and stay ahead, have moved backward 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. These attitudes affect the poor and undereducated in a disproportionate fashion and create burdens on government assistance programs that are unsustainable in the long-term. Academic institutions have lost their way. Not only are they stifling academic freedom and opinion but they have fallen out of a conversation with the American student. One result, few institutions think of financial success in terms which include decreasing the amount students borrow to pay for education.
What are the solutions?
First people have to agree to disagree. The idea that tolerance means 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 different backgrounds debate their view and the reasons for their conclusion. In addition, debate forces us to consider the implications of a decision. 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 regarding “conversion” have to and do 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 Jesus Christ. Those who are not open or do not want to have a conversation should be respected.
Remember, mutual respect means that we don’t advocate for or create societal pressures aimed at marginalizing religious/values or silence opposing political viewpoints. The consideration of diverse opinions and the open debate of ideas allows for good, long-term results. Those that stifle freedom and the free exchange of ideas are not viewed well from a historical perspective.
As a person of faith, 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. In addition, sacred scripture reminds me that at the end of the day those I debate 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.