The state of America’s political and religious discourse is not healthy by any measure. The disfunction of how we communicate with each other isn’t the problem though – it’s a symptom of much deeper unresolved issues.
We are living in a moment when conversation shuts down or is transferred to attack with the utterance of a variety of one word statements – namely the issues, or really, any issue. Say “guns” or “abortion” or “Trump” for that matter and conversation stops. It doesn’t even turn to debate. Rather, defenses go up immediately. We shift to attack mode. All or nothing victory is at stake. Relationships, even long valued relationships, are collateral for what we think is more important – being right.
When I see Facebook posts that take cheap shots at political opponents, I have to wonder – how is this helping the nation? How is it helping to bring people of diverse beliefs together? It’s not. It’s segregating us and forcing us to take sides and pick up our weapon of choice to demolish the other side.
That’s what happens when the virus of being right infects a large segment of the population.
In recent weeks I’ve started considering something I have done rarely – unfriend people on facebook. I’m not talking about people I disagree with and engage in conversation and dialogue on a variety of subjects. I have a great deal of respect for people who are intellectually healthy enough to have a conversation with someone they disagree with. I think that kind of conversation is badly needed. Not so we can convince each other of our own rightness, but rather to better understand how we each come to the conclusions we come to. It allows us to ask better questions, consider better options, and re-evaluate beliefs. That’s what growth is about.
Instead, I’m talking about people who have no interest in conversation or dialogue – they are only interested in being right. They can’t handle conflict or even differing opinions. It’s all or nothing for these folks. And I’m just not sure I have the energy or the desire to keep such a relationship going.
I don’t comment of posts from these folks – there is no point. It’s like attempting to talk with someone who does propaganda for a tyrant. They have bought in hook, line, and sinker.
Our dialogue is in intensive care – or should be. I’m not sure it’s actually getting the care it needs really. We’re not even getting hospice care at this point. Or pain killers of any type. If I had to describe the state of our political and religious discourse, it would be like using a rusty jagged spoon to tear out a rotting tooth, without novocain.
And I’m not sure how many people really want this to change either. Yes, there are many who post these cute, shallow, social media statements about getting along. How quaint. But posting such things isn’t going to change anything. It only happens when we each commit to actual change. Commit to not only posting better quality things, but also commit to better quality conversations, and better quality relationships with one another. That requires a commitment of time, of investing in one another. That requires being with people, face to face. It requires letting go of the ideological propaganda we embrace and bath in and consume. It requires congruency – your words and your actions match up.
For Christians this can start by doing some self-examination and asking yourself some basic questions – How am I doing in following Jesus and what he taught? Am I in alignment with the teachings of Jesus through my actions, or am I just mouthing the words and fooling myself into believing that I am following Jesus? Do I pray for my enemies? Or do I pray for their downfall? How do I show love to those I hate or hate me? How am I living out the teachings of Jesus found in the Sermon on the Mount and Matthew 25? What needs to change in order for me to be in alignment with following Jesus? Am I willing to let go of things that aren’t in alignment with Jesus? If not, why not? In what do I really believe that Jesus doesn’t know what he was talking about? Why?
As for our political and religious discourse, are you waiting for someone else to start? Why? We are called to step up and be the initiators. We are called to set the example. We are called to improve the state of our discourse. So let’s get started.