Shall we talk?
It doesn’t take too much to be reminded of just how self oriented we are when assessing situations and personalities and issues that we face day and day out. The recent primaries in the USA, and the polarization of the candidates and what it has done to those who side with one particular ideology or representative, only reinforces for us all again that when it comes to civil discourse, we have not advanced very far in our Western culture and post-modern society. We continually seem to regress and shun progress when it comes to productive dialogue and discourse.
Disagreeing with tact and love
If I have learned anything in my adult life, is that people have a hard time with expressing disagreement in civil tone and language, especially when it comes to disputes within families and close friendships, and even more so when it concerns matters where passions and opinions run high. This may pertain to such matters as sports, or sports teams, or to politicians or a political party, all the way to views on faith and belief, to opinions on any matter of subject. I have come to understand that in our culture and our society, people don’t know how to be civil in discourse and even worse, they don’t know how to disagree in matters being discussed in a manner that honors the other person.
Discourse that views life as either/or vs life viewed as both/and
So much of the discourse within the popular culture, and society at large, has pitted people for and against certain views, and it has created very unhealthy situations that create anxiety and tension for not only the people directly involved, but all the bystanders who get smeared and slimed by the name called and epithets that are directed at the participants. This immediately brings up people like Donald Trump and his 2016 Presidential Campaign. It also brings to mind the discourses I have seen from such fundamentalists like the people at Westborough Baptist Church and their intolerant attacks toward people and causes they disagree with. I find it disheartening at times to see that so many people get seduced by the rhetoric and keep going back to the trough and get slimed by the negativity over and over and over again. There is no need to return to the “scene of the crime” as so many people get drawn into the ups and downs of uncivilized discourse.
When people embrace a mindset that demands a winner and a loser, and it is a confrontational mindset that seeks to separate themselves from the other, that mindset is a destructive and egotistical self-centred approach to life. You see things in the clarity of black and white, and no shades of grey. You see things clearly as “us” as distinguished from “them.” You see yourself as being a pursuer of what is “right” and the other as the perpetrator of what is “wrong.” You see yourself as intellectually and morally superior, what the others are intellectually challenged, and ethically misguided. The constant clash of differing views, and the ensuing confrontation of these diverse opinions and challenge the participants and all those watching from near and far, as to how to best navigate our troubled world, in a manner that honors and blesses, and does not curse.
Discord and disappointment, and the sense of having no voice, causes people to act out in ugly ways
We are above uncivilized discourse. That is what we say. That is what we believe. However, the evidence is abundantly clear. Many people love the drama of the discord, the conflict, the tension, and verbal and emotional disputes that take so much of our energy and get us all hooked for more and more of the same. Having watched the US Presidential Republican Primaries, I witnessed a candidate that is now the presumptive Republican nominee constantly attack, besmirch, condescend, character assassinate, bully, intimidate, put down, all from an orientation that only sees “winners” and “losers.” The political analysts and commentators and TV audiences and pundits have eaten it all up. People seem to be infatuated with this show of sewer drain gutter politics. Others are so turned off from it, they have hit the mute button and moved on, even some going as far as deciding they will not vote in 2016, or actually vote for the Democratic candidate. But not many are dealing with the heart issues, with how and why the discourse had degraded itself to such a low.
Dare I say, there is the same kind of inability to have discourse within contemporary Christianity
I have mentioned it time and time again over the last while, about how Evangelicals have responded to the likes of people like Rob Bell and Brian McLaren and their views on “progessive Christianity.” We can see the same kind of inability to have discourse even in local churches. People are people. People hurt people. And hurt people hurt other people. The cycle appears to continue over and over.
“Hot Button” Christianity has moved on beyond the issues, to attacks against people
People being people simply means that we can see human triggers and responses that are similar in all kinds of sub-cultural communities and groups. We are all part of the same society and generally function within the same cultural matrix and stream. In a Western democracy we have values like acceptance and toleration that are often times challenged by those who want more or less progressive attitudes reflected and accepted in the general culture.
Within the various streams of Christianity, be it mainstream as in Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism (Episcopalian), Orthodox, or Evangelical (Baptist, Pentecostal, Charismatic, Mennonite, Brethren, etc.), we all have a basic set of beliefs that define for us those core belief statements that encapsulate and distinctly reveal what it is about “us” (whichever “Christian us” you happen to be) that makes us both unique, as well as what moves us in how we engage with society and culture at large.
Christians, no matter what expression they happen to be, engage like others, in discussions and public engagements, and sometimes these public dialogues and discourses are anything but amiable and polite and courteous. They can be downright nasty and confrontational. Just as Brian McLaren and Rob Bell how it feels to be criticized, judged, debunked, name called, labelled a heretic, and discounted and dismissed as no longer relevant not only to the discussion, but to their own unique stream of Evangelical Christianity.
We fixate of “what” and then we trash the “who”
What I have found to be true in my own life, especially when I was a younger idealist, is that I would champion beliefs and the values that flowed from and supported those beliefs. I became an apologist for defending what I deemed to be the “essentials of Evangelical faith and belief.” I fixated on the substance of the “what” was believed or challenged, and always depersonalized the debate and discussion, and my obsession was seeking to prove “the truth and nothing but the truth”, and the person presenting the other side, be it in a debate or discussion or dialogue, became secondary, and as such I never fully respected the individual, and at times became arrogant and rude in my ongoing dialogue with them.
I found others in public discourse to be the same. Most are never short on opinion, and usually are minuscule in substance in the crux of the issues they are presenting. They often get so wrapped up in their presentations, that they often forget that they are one voice among many, and that there are other opinions other than their own. Other people have “skin” in the game, and their points of view and opinions matter as much as their own respective views. It seems people on all sides take personal slight if they think their views are being marginalized and not addressed.
The “who”, the “other person” in our dialogues often suffer being maligned or ridiculed or even ignored as we plow on in forcing our views as the only legitimate and valid ones worth holding. I have seen this in church circles, theology and philosophy enclaves, political debates, as well as yearly planning meetings for business. It is all the same. There is this “us” versus “them” that kicks in and we all want our own respective views to triumph over all the others. But few care about the actual “how we discourse.”
If we are to have “civil” discourse, we need to be civil, listen, pause and reflect, before we respond
I believe, and am convinced, that as a civilized society, we are known by our actions toward not only one another, but toward others, toward those who are different than ourselves. Be it in politics, be it in business, be it in religious bodies, be it in any ethnic or special interest group, we need to have the basics of civility in our dialogues and in our actions.
We can best be civil by:
- Having an basic attitude of civility and mutual respect for all people, all belief systems, all genders and all sexual orientations.
- Be committed to listen to the views of others, without interrupting, shutting down, shouting down, or maligning their views and the people espousing them.
- Take time to pause, breathe, relax, chill, and think about what is being said, BEFORE even considering a response.
- Respond in an attitude of humility and grace toward the other person or persons and their views, and simply inform them of your response and why you hold to the views you hold.
- Make an effort to accentuate the common humanity and common ground you share, and seek to build rapport and consensus on what is shared, and see if you can work together for the common good of all the people concerned.
- Seek to build relationships and partnerships with those people who have that same mutual interest in finding common ground and consensus for the common good of all, and engage in getting that communication out to others through publishing, broadcasting, social media, and social groups in the nations.
- Become an ambassador of civility and common good for all people, and an advocate for civilized dialogue and discourse.
It is time for those people who are advocates for civilized dialogue, to step up to the plate and deliver.
We cannot afford to be silent, while those who shout the loudest, and those who control the media, and those who appear to wield influence control the verbal dialogue on matters that affect all of us.
Moderation and toleration must be matched by civility and proper discourse
I have found that no matter the social circle, be it political, religious, or even sports, or entertainment, wherever people gather, you are going to have to civil and respectful of other people. We live in a free and open society, where our common laws are there for the mutual protection of all citizens. We need to remember that there is no “us and them.” There is only “us.” We need to embrace an active role of moderation, and mutual respect and toleration. We need to view everyone as if they were our own selves.
There was a certain German who resisted Hitler…
Remember the words of Martin Niemoller for they echo the sentiment we must recover and expand in our Western democracies. We must make room for others, and we must not view them apart from ourselves. It is “we” together that matters. What affects those who are different than ourselves, affects all of us. There is no more separation. There is no division. When we are trying to be civil and trying to engage with others in civil discourse, we need mutual respect and understanding. As Niemoller said in his poem, First They Came:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
~ Samuel M. Buick