I read a lot. I read a good deal of articles and blog posts and other material on the internet too. Sometimes I venture down into the comments, although I’m not sure why. It seems the more comments there are, the more likely it is that the thread will end up being a heated exchange about either politics or religion. It just takes one small comment from someone anonymous and then bam! the whole thread turns into a shouting match between two extreme positions both vying to show just how smart they and just how dumb the other side is.
I see many comments about religious and political issues and personalities that are based on fear. This isn’t new. I read many arguments from people who try to bludgeon others into their way of thinking. Again, not new. I read arguments stating that you better do this or vote this way or else… I see that I’m to blame is something happens or if a candidate wins the election. I read arguments that are based on fear. I read arguments that use guilt and shame as their basis. I read arguments that twist Scripture so that is sounds like God supports a particular person’s rationalized view about any given subject – how convenient for God to have something written thousands of years ago (in a different language) in the ancient Middle East and have it match up with a person’s preferences in 2016 America.
I read these arguments and I think about them. And then I usually dismiss them. For one reason primarily. If an argument of why I should do or believe something or vote for someone is based on fear and uses guilt and shame, then it is a poor argument usually. I should know, I’m also guilty of offering these arguments from time to time. These are arguments that aren’t arguing anything in particular – they are trying to manipulate and control. They are arguments that clearly state what a person is opposed to, but are lacking in clarity as to what a person really wants or thinks should actually happen to correct the situation and move forward towards something much better. These are arguments that lack a vision of where to go and what to do and who to be. They don’t inspire action. Often they inspire resistance because they are like an attack on the opposition. And the defenses are raised by those that support the opposing views. And counter attacks come.
Trying to manipulate or force people in such a way usually doesn’t work. Again, I should know, I’ve done it. Or maybe I’m just not that great at it. Yeah, maybe that the only flaw with such arguments. I’m sure you are different.
The political and religious discourse that I appreciate and am open to is different. I don’t mind that someone has different beliefs and ideas – I actually enjoy conversations with people who are far different from myself. Here’s the thing though – mutual respect. I appreciate someone coming into a conversation not so worried about winning an argument so much as winning a relationship. Even if I will only know that person for this one conversation. Things can get heated in a conversation like that, yet there is respect. Questions aren’t offered that try to trap a person, rather questions are aimed at understanding how the other person came to the conclusions and beliefs they hold. Ultimately, these conversations aren’t about trying to convince the other person, but rather walking away with a special gift – wonder, friendship, respect.
In these conversations manipulation, name calling, labeling, one-liners, and character assassinations are left off the table. That happens when you start with respect for another person regardless of what they believe. You respect them because they are a human being, just like you. You want to hear what they have to say and you listen because you know the other person will too. It’s not about who is right, it really never is. It’s about seeing the other person as a human person, just like you – full of life, ideas, beliefs. A person who has a family and friends. A person who has preferences, likes, and dislikes. A person who came to their conclusion because of their life circumstances and experiences – just like you did. When you approach a conversation this way, you see a person that you are talking with, not an issue you are talking about. And here’s the secret we can all keep in mind – all issues involve people…real people with real lives and families and friends and so much more. It’s never just an issue to debate. It’s people’s lives that are affected.