Can We Understand Each Other?

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I originally started this post with an angry story.  Two days ago, someone gave me a long justification for the behaviors of the President.  That was the immediate motivation for writing this, but I was so incensed, it took me two full days to be willing to edit that story out, though I knew I needed to because it conflicts with the point I’m making here.  Or perhaps it proves the point but contradicts the tone I’m hoping to convey.  

 

As I’ve had these conversations, it has become increasingly clear to me that we, meaning people who have different views of the current President and Administration, are not understanding each other at all.  


As long as I’ve been aware of politics, I have seen friends with different political perspectives disagree.  That’s not new or surprising.  I’m not talking here about run-of-the-mill blue and red stuff. 

I’m talking about a level of misunderstanding that amounts to people on both sides shouting, “What on earth is going on?”  Accompanying this I hear a rousing chorus, again in stereo, of “What is wrong with you?”  Of course, there is plenty of name-calling and insult-flinging from both directions.  Again, there always has been, but this feels qualitatively different to me.  

Of course, having said that, I’m revealing much about my perspective here, because one of the big questions I’m hearing from the political right is “Why are you acting like this is any different than any other President?  You had eight years with Obama; now we’re in charge because we won the electoral college.  Politics as usual, but you’re marching and losing your minds.”  And often this is accompanied, from the less circumspect, by another round of name-calling.  

First, let me state the obvious: We’re not getting anywhere with this.  No one who is being called a Nazi or a Snowflake is suddenly looking up as if from a movie slap, saying, “Thanks, I needed that,” and jumping on the opposing bandwagon.  Divides are deepening, friendships are splintering, hostility is increasing.

On the original Star Trek series, an alien force invaded The Enterprise and incited anger, conflict, and violence in everyone.  The Klingons boarded The Enterprise, phasers were mysteriously disabled, and sword-fighting rang out across the ship.  Finally, Captain Kirk grasped the situation and called everyone on both sides to lay down their weapons and laugh at the creature, which turned out to be this swirling cloud of translucent energy or something.  It couldn’t bear being laughed at, so it fled.  (How did Kirk know?)

I’m not suggesting we need merely laugh at the hostility that has arisen and all will be mended.  Our problems are deeper than that, although from a spiritual perspective I do believe Satan delights in this state of antagonism, especially between Jesus followers.  So that’s a bad sign.  

Second, I’m making the assumption as I’m writing this that you, reading this, would like to make things better.  If you are of the ilk that you are perversely enjoying all of this conflict and division–“Some men just want to watch the world burn,” to quote the ever-wise Alfred in The Dark Knight–then have at it and I will pray for your soul.  Sorry for how harsh that sounds…and I’m totally serious.  The people enjoying this are not in a good place spiritually.  How’s that for a blanket statement that I will stand behind?  If you think it’s awesome how miserable certain people are in our present situation: repent.  I don’t think I can say it any clearer than that.  

But I’m trusting you’re not there.  My blog is not so widely read as to get trolls, thanks be to God.  I’m assuming as I write this that we simply do not understand one another and we’re mutually unhappy at the state of things, though we don’t all agree on the solution.  

I don’t know the answer to my own question.  I’ve never felt so confounded and so utterly at odds with people I respect before.  Why can’t you see what I see?  How are you not getting this?  

Clearly, then, I’m not offering the solution on this post (“Let’s all laugh together like Captain Kirk did…”).  But I’m asking and I’m trying, because I believe in grace, I believe in redemption, and I believe that truth sets us free. We are, corporately, pissed off and acting hostile, but we are not free.  At least we are not the free that I’m praying for.  

So here’s a deal I’ll make:  read the rest of what I say with as open a mind as you’re able, and I promise not to use the opportunity to try to persuade you that you’re wrong.  

Deal?


Jesus gave very strong instructions about when we have disagreements with each another.  Strikingly, he commands both the person who did the offending and the person offended to go make peace.  So whichever role you imagine yourself in, it’s on you to seek to make peace.  

I don’t hold the view that we should stop discussing politics and steer to safer waters…unless we should.  By that, I mean if you have a relationship that is currently so strained and at odds that the best hope is to cease and desist, then do.  

If not, how can we disagree respectfully?  

Are you a racist?  See, I didn’t guess that you thought so.  I’m guessing that you see yourself having different motives for your positions.  I will acknowledge that some of the responses that I categorize as fearful seem motivated by racial issues.  I’ll bet that being called a racist, explicitly or implicitly, hasn’t a)made you change your views, or b)improved your relationships with whomever said or suggested that.  

In arguably Jesus’ most famous saying, “Do to others as you would have them do to you,”  we’ve got the golden rule…that we’ve (almost) all been breaking like crazy since this political divide widened into a chasm.  I’m sure there are some (more) righteous among us.  But I’m not a snowflake, I don’t “want to see terrorists kill Americans,” I’m not a whiny crybaby (except sometimes when I lose at ultimate) and I do, in fact, read and research and try to grasp what’s going on in our world.  I’m not naive, stupid, a dupe, ignorant, or a pawn.  I’m not even hate-filled.  Have I been called all that?  Yeah, directly and indirectly.   By you?  Nope.  Nor did I call you a racist.  

But neither am I doing to others as I would have them do to me!  I would have them give me the benefit of the doubt.  I would have them hear me out before they judged me.  Heck, I would have them hear me out and then, if they disagreed, try not to judge me.  

And so that’s what I’m going to try.  Understand, I think a lot is at stake right now. (Still not trying to persuade you, just giving context.)  I don’t expect you to surrender your position lightly or casually, because I’m choosing to believe that you understand we’re at a crucial juncture in our history.  I’ve written a few posts asking people, and trying to help people, to see the other side.  A few folks who agreed with me also said, “Oh, Mike, that’s a lost cause.  They don’t care.”  But again, how do I want others to do to me?  I want them to take me seriously enough and respect me enough to try to reason with me.  

So I’m inviting you–and I think I mean this–reason with me if you disagree with me.  Don’t simply tell me my news is fake.  Don’t attribute my views to a flaw in my character or a glaring lack of patriotism or Christian conscience.  But if you think I haven’t heard you properly, give me a chance to try.  I won’t attack and you won’t have to defend.  And I don’t know if we’ll “get anywhere,” but if we can show mutual respect, that’s a win.  That would be a big improvement over what I’m seeing all around me.  


Here’s the next part:  if you are from the right side of the political spectrum, you are likely inclined to give things on that side the benefit of the doubt.  Another friend of mine said because he is a conservative, he is willing to believe that the President has stopped doing and saying certain things that he was doing and saying before.  He is inclined to believe that because he sympathizes with that perspective and those positions.  

This is the “my terrorist is your freedom fighter” issue.  Likewise, those from the leftward side will view most if not all of what is going on with doubt and concern.  They are likely to believe reports that confirm those doubts and concerns.  Never mind for a moment the bias within various media, even the most respectable and those practicing the highest levels of journalistic integrity, which is certainly present–we all have our own bias toward the sources we read and see.  

So when we’re disagreeing, it’s unlikely to go well when I have cited a source that I trust and you counter it with a source you trust, while we mutually roll our eyes at the other’s go-to news.  

If I’m saying things that are obvious, it appears that most of the folks arguing on social media haven’t caught on how obvious these are.  One of the terrors I face (I don’t say that lightly) is that truth and facts seem to be losing power.  If we can’t ever agree on a source of truth then we are in serious trouble.  In a recent post, a debate ensued because some people–who were, let’s say it, disinclined to believe the article in the first place–produced articles and evidence that refuted the posted claims.  I will note that one was Snopes, which I tend to respect as a less biased source.  One of the folks who agreed with the original post–again, with a predisposition to do so–provided anecdotal evidence she had from direct relationships.  In other words, her report was second-hand, but from people she considered trustworthy friends.  

Would that sway you?  It did not seem to impress the folks arguing against her.  

I think the more we have at stake in winning an argument, the more convinced we are of our own sources and the quicker we are to reject contradictory sources, whatever those might be. If you don’t find this frightening…well, I’ll just say that I do, because this leaves us almost no ground or hope to reach a common understanding, short of God intervening directly with one or both of us.  

Where does this leave us?  Can we understand each other?  I still don’t have that answer.  But I know this:  we are called to peace and reconciliation.  Blessed are the peacemakers.

I’m not asking for cheap peace, where we act polite and pretend.  I’m repenting of my anger.  I’m repenting of failing to give you who disagree with me the benefit of the doubt.  For you Jesus followers, I will try to hear you with the belief that you are seeking and following God’s Spirit as faithfully as you can.  I don’t promise to believe your sources, nor do I expect you suddenly to believe mine.  But I’m aiming to respect you.    

In exchange, I’m asking that you take my concerns seriously.  Perhaps I’ll ask this:  if you take me seriously in other areas, then take me seriously here, too.  If you’ve ever been inclined to believe that I have any wisdom, that I have a decent heart, that I’m trying to do good in the world and help some folks know God’s love, then allow for the possibility that I haven’t taken a radical departure from that here.  

You might still think I’m wrong.  Absolutely, we can still disagree.  But can we understand each other?  Can we try?  

If not…

I say let’s try.  

3 thoughts on “Can We Understand Each Other?

  1. Lee Hammons

    Mike, I think that this is parallel to our recent discussion. Last fall, I searched for and subscribed to what was considered the most reliable of news sources from the opposite side of the political spectrum. Part of it was motivated by my understanding of the wisdom of Sun Tzu from the Art of War, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt.” Part was that I felt that I really didn’t understand a lot of people around me. I am still not sure if it is paying off, but I find that I do enjoy getting both perspectives in an edited and polished version, and not the angry and disordered rants that seem to characterize most discussion between political opposites.

    This new perspective has polished my tactics for interaction. I also now think that creating offense makes us targets, both for ridicule for not understanding the other side, and for the immaturity of not understanding that we don’t understand. This creation of offense can be a tool for discussion, and should be in our armamentarium of ways that we interact, but a typically more solid position is to not create barriers to discourse.

    That being said, we cannot abdicate our responsibility to the truth. This places us in a difficult position. But the cause is not lost. These seemingly contradictory stances can be combined. “They say sunlight is the best disinfectant. But it is also what allows you to see whether the emperor has any clothes.”

    The best approach is to invite the other side to an honest discourse. Let them tell their truth, and expose it to scrutiny. Those capable of substantiated conversation will foster understanding. Those incapable will find themselves frustrated, but at least there was the invitation for understanding that was forwarded. In the end, public understanding will gravitate to those conversations with substantiated communication. That is the goal.

  2. Morgan Perry

    Hey Mike. Good post. I agree with most of it and, as you know, I come from the political right. More than anything, I am encouraged that you, being on the other end of the political spectrum, want to promote decency and dialog and understanding, which is what I believe I want also. I, like you, am seeing far too little of this in recent interactions.

    I will pick out a couple of things that I would encourage you to consider. Toward the end you said that if we can’t ever agree on a *source of* truth, then we are in serious trouble. I would encourage you to delete the “source of” in your thinking (and writing). It is FAR more important that we develop and practice the faculty of reasoning and analysis regarding data being purported to be truth than believe that the source is more important than the substance. Sometimes Trump will speak truth and sometimes falsehood. Same with CNN. Same with Snopes. Unfortunately, Snopes is one that I used to agree with you on, but have seen too many examples of bias to hold them up very high any longer…plus they’ve simply ventured out of realms of largely true-false (e.g., “Do lunar eclipses only happen during full moons?”) to areas of much more interpretation and opinion (e.g., “Are there Muslim ‘no-go’ zones in Europe?”). Snopes pretty well misleads in the latter case often (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oCsEqKjP9p0) and it seems clear it does so for reasons of political bias.

    People are errant. People are corruptible. Because of this, it far healthier to take the perspective that truth is truth no matter where it comes from. And there are several good things about this. First, it leads us away from a “Person A – good; Person B – bad” mentality, which I think you would agree leads to the problems we’re seeing in current political discourse. And second, it is actually in keeping with liberal philosophy and contrary to elitist philosophy that you don’t need to have an approved pedigree to have merit.

  3. LEELA

    Hi, I really appreciate this article. I am disturbed most of the time how Christian brothers and sisters are attacking each other and allowing division without peace. After all the bigger unity is the gospel isn’t it? But somehow in this election in this presidency, Christians are unable to find common ground and each state their case with the Bible.

    One side uses the generosity and call to help the poor the real justice verses to shame and guilt Christians who support a temporary ban or are against illegal immigration. On the other side, people use the God calls us to be shrewd and protect those that can’t speak for themselves to justify name calling Christians who hold protest signs at the airport. I will tell you it breaks my hearts that we are doing this to each other. Is it really a far off dream to say “they will be called Christians by our love”

    Btw just loved this part of your writing: “So when we’re disagreeing, it’s unlikely to go well when I have cited a source that I trust and you counter it with a source you trust, while we mutually roll our eyes at the other’s go-to news. ”

    For me on a personal level, I feel judged when I as a middle class working mom just doesn’t have the extra to take care of a refugee. Doesn’t mean that I don’t love them or want life to be better for them. But if I’m struggling to barely take care of my family then I know there are others in that situation. I want unborn children to be born. So I don’t want my money to go to a cause that would fund abortions. Doesn’t mean I don’t sympathize with the plight of that decision at that moment.

    I guess my point is why do we think we are simple when we are beautifully complex and we can have these paradoxical points of view within ourselves.

    And imagine what we as Christians can do to change situations if we worked together. So instead of fighting over whether the government should do this or that, let’s get together and create organizations with voluntary donations and make things happen. Maybe we can build housing to take refugees in and show them love and care. Maybe we can fund settlements in their own country. And wouldn’t it be a wonder to do it as a team and show the world, this is what Christians can do if we work together despite different political passions.

    Just my two cents. I am for the cause of uniting and not dividing the church Jesus died for.

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