The tenor of humane public conversation has reached a dangerous level of deterioration. I am learning new words how to degrade and insult my neighbor. Before one turns on the television, the radio or reads a blog – there should be this message: “The following words may be dangerous to your mental health.”
How do we respond to people we get along with and those we don’t? How can I keep a conversation going without erupting into a shouting match?
Two examples come to mind of ways how to disagree. Years ago, a Broadway Play (forgot the name) told the riotous story of a main character who was going to tell the truth to everyone he met. You can just imagine all sorts of nutty situations he got himself into and then tried to explain himself out of. His choice of speaking the truth spoke of good intentions but his approach was a hilarious flop.
The other example I offer is the story of two people (wife and husband) who own a regional weekly in northern Minnesota. They write in calm and measured words on controversial issues. They do their homework on “the facts” of a subject. There are no insults. No putdowns. Their invitational style encouraged community discussion.
How does one cultivate conversation in a time of name-calling and adamantly held positions?
I don’t have magic answers. And I’m not going to give advice. Here are some observations.
We choose the people we talk to. Do I really want to understand an opposing viewpoint? Do I need to carefully reexamine my own position?
We can use the style of the Broadway Play character who wanted to tell the truth and it all backfired. Or we can cultivate a style of the editors of a regional newspaper who encourage community conversation.
There are people in our lives who are difficult to get along with. You and I may be one. These people may be at your church, in your home, in the wider family, at work, with friends or next door where you live.
John Oxenham, the English poet encourages us “to take the High Road.” Here are a few lines from his poem, The Ways.
To every person there openeth
A Way and Ways and a Way
And the High Soul climbs the High Way
And the Low Soul gropes the Low
And in between, on the misty flats
The rest drift to and fro
……And everyone decidith
The Way one’s Soul shall go.
by Dan Schmiechen
All the brutal physical violence and the pictures of general mayhem on the streets of Charlottesville, VA at a rally by White Nationalism were unbelievable. At first, I thought I was watching a South American city going through a revolution.
Then the planned killing as it tragically turned out to be of a young woman allegedly run down by a car driven by a White Nationalist. This heinous act reveals how deep hate can go. Our shared democracy is being assaulted. The woman holding a torch in New York harbor must wonder if she should move to another country. Would she even be granted immigrant status in America? By the way does anyone know the color of her skin?
The White Nationalists are teaching us new words for how to degrade and insult our neighbors. What is so creepily scary in Charlottesville is the reenactment of raw, uncensored propaganda methods used by the Nazis prior to World War II. We see the torchlight parades, venom spewing out of the mouths of young men, the pictures of the swastikas, Heil Hitler salutes, and the rallying cries of “Blood and Soil” and “Jews Will Not Replace Us”– Hitler’s national anthem for a pure, Aryan society.
The White Nationalists want to reinvent and affirm a white, repressive society. They not only appeal to the propaganda efforts of Hitler but they want to toss out the constitution of our country and redefine who is a true American. What we’re seeing unfold before our eyes (and no, I am not hallucinating) is that People of Color, Jews, Gays and Immigrants are stealing our white privileged way of life. And is that so bad? We Americans are often afraid to name something by its proper name and in this case, hatred is pure unaltered evil. Why? Because the above groups of people are portrayed as less than human.
What we saw in Charlottesville is that there are some who believe that God never bestowed “dignity and honor upon them” and that they are less than human. There are some people who believe that People of Color, Jews, Gays and Immigrants have no humanity but are a sub-species of the damned who should not exist.
That’s what is going on.
All of this darkness becomes so insidiously evil, and before I know it, my grandmother will be on the “list of the damned” because she once baked an upside down cake. There is a lot of nuttiness going on in the “moral swamps” in Washington DC, the “moral swamps” in the Twin Cities and wherever you live. All of us live in “moral swamps” where good fights for the higher ground over evil and where all humans struggle for inclusiveness.
This is a year of open season where dehumanizing people because of culture, sexuality and race are becoming normalized. Have we entered a time in American history where respect, tolerance and neighborliness will disappear? As Christians, as disciples of Jesus Christ– what is our response?
Our staying power does not come from ourselves but from God’s love in Jesus Christ. I believe the word is: “Hold fast to God’s good.”
*Hold fast means forgiving love can cross barriers; merciful grace can overcome hate; and neighborly acts can bind.
*Hold fast means neighbors can share trust and live in community.
*Hold fast means bridge building has not gone out of fashion.
When we let these clamorous voices of ill will and soul killing hate go unchallenged, our silence indicates consent.
As a Christian, a disciple of Jesus Christ – what is your response?
“Earth shall be fair, and all her people one; Nor till that hour shall God’s whole will be done. Now, even now, once more from earth to sky, Peels forth in joy our old undaunted cry: “Earth shall be fair and all her folk be one.” -from An Old Hymn
I’m wondering if asking the above question more diligently, people would be spared moral headaches and loss of self. We read stories of people who made questionable decisions in their lives. This is true of all of us and not only public officials. The flip side is to ask: why do we read about people who are addicted to insatiable cravings for self-importance and self-aggrandizements? These folks give Junior High schoolers a bad name.
Do we read these stories about dumb decisions because we are reminded of our own poorly thought out decisions? Can we learn from them?
The University of Minnesota is plunging into an “accelerated recruiting athletic race.” Our football and basketball teams need to be ranked nationally in the sports polls. The University plans to construct more practice facilities, develop a more conducive atmosphere for the athletics and pay the coaches more money. Sadly, it is never made clear what this orgy of spending has to do with “higher education.”
Too bad, the executive team at Volkswagen did not ask the question, “Are you sure you want to do this? They were caught in the act compromising safety standards.
Then there is the story about someone who dumped pet goldfish into Wood Lake in a local suburb. The big goldfish are threatening to destroy the cattail marsh habitat. A grant was awarded from the County to buy 150 largemouth bass to eat the goldfish.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” This can be a helpful question to ask. The question cuts to the heart of our motives. Why am I doing this? What do I hope to accomplish? This is a forgotten question today in the rush toward the allurement of personal advantage and fleeting self- preservation.
An inward look is always harder to ask because one’s soul is at stake. I’m not over exaggerating. Let’s not forget that the decisions we make are informed by a personal faith in God’s love, or an informed conscience to live by. Yes, I’m thinking about whatever you and I promised to change in our lives – eating habits, faith habits and helping our neighbor – how did we hold up? Were we true to ourselves?
I can recall embarrassing decisions I made in haste to get the job done. I didn’t want to deal with it. Or I wanted to get rid of it. I even wanted to impress people and the whole thing backfired.
Who is the person I am meant to be? I’m not talking about being a goody two shoes nor am I thinking how I can be morally better than others? We are attracted to hearing about “the moral swamps” in Washington DC but these same places exist in our lives where sometimes hard decisions need to be made.
I believe God’s love asks us “why did I do what I did? One does not win door prizes. There are no commendations, no award ceremonies. What gives one the deepest satisfaction is to say: “Yes, I was true to myself. I honored the best in me.” What more can one ask? No one can take that away from me.