Some things I feel safe to say are true for everyone: you should treat others the way you want to be treated, caring for other people makes you more whole, mosquitoes are not our friends and probably didn’t bite in The Garden, if they flew there at all.
Some things I know are true of me and, though they seem so abundantly and self-evidently true–I want to hold these truths as self-evident–I’ve grasped through my many years that other people simply don’t feel the same. Though ultimate is clearly the best sport humankind has to offer, and throwing and chasing a flying disc is a proven way to experience God’s presence,* some people don’t like it…even after playing it. –I know, it seems preposterous to me, too, but I’ve seen it with my own eyes.
Likewise, chocolate for me ranges between enjoyment and ecstasy. But some people are horribly allergic, while others simply don’t like the taste.
At this point, I’m challenged to recognize our common humanity. I have to dig deeply into my vocabulary knapsack and dig out words like “preference.” When we start debating Universal Truths, are we really just disagreeing over personal preferences? Can it be okay if you prefer vanilla milkshakes? Can I accept that without thinking less of you? Without thinking of you as lesser?
If we disagree over the existence of God, which I believe we both have every right to do, we’re discussing a universal truth. Either God exists or God doesn’t exist; while neither of us may be able to prove our view (or both of us think we can), God doesn’t come or go depending on the soundness of our arguments. We’re talking about an absolute truth that exists (or doesn’t) outside the field of preferences.
How should we treat other people? Is ultimate the best sport? Is chocolate the staff of life? Does God exist?
I think one of the ways Advertising and this Culture of Noise have triumphed in our lives has been to dull our distinction between opinions, preferences, and absolute truth.
You can have an opinion on gun rights, immigration, whether President Obama is the antichrist or the savior.** You can have preferences about whether hymns or current music is sung in church, which NFL team you want to scream your lungs out for and which you despise, and what vehicle you drive. We can even have opinions, you, me, and everyone else, about punctuation.
But–as the linked Bloom County strip above so brilliantly depicts–we have learned to talk about our preferences and our opinions as if they are universal truths. They aren’t.
When I joke about chocolate and ultimate, you who don’t love either can see that I’m silly for trying to absolutize my preferences.
But churches split over people’s musical preferences or the manner in which communion is served.
I could make a list of my opinions here and you might decide whether I am with you or against you, one of you or one of “them,” based on those opinions. We do this all the time. When the memes pop up on Facebook, I’m glancing at them and categorizing the people who posted them: Conservative. Liberal. Reactionary. Libertarian. Idiot.
This is bad. In my opinion, this is bad. (See what i did there?) Of course we are going to gather ourselves into groupings based on our beliefs, opinions and preferences. I love hanging out with ultimate players, because we all love ultimate! One of my best friends and I can talk about ultimate twice as long as we talk about everything else combined, and we both have lots of opinions.
But the encouragement to think of “us” as the good guys, the right ones, and “them” as the fools, the damage-doers, the enemy, leads us in a very bad direction in two ways.
First, I learn from people who have different opinions than I have. I have had some very enjoyable conversations, sitting around with a good friend who shares all my political views (albeit maybe even a little stronger than mine) frothing about all the stupid people, all the things wrong with the world that “they” cause, and reinforcing our own rightness. But honestly, I didn’t learn anything new. None of my views were challenged.
If people who think differently than I do are the enemy, the incarnation of evil in the world, then I have shut myself off from learning anything from them. But they are the only ones who might help me to see errors in my own opinions. Hanging out with a chorus of people who think exactly as I do might make me feel right and self-righteous…but it will never help me understand a different point of view, or see the errors in my ways, or even help me learn to love someone in spite of our disagreements. I need all of these things.
Second, my heart inclines toward narrowing. I don’t find everyone delightful and fascinating and lovable. I don’t even feel sympathetic toward everyone. Some people I experience as obnoxious and proud and rude. Some people just bug the ever-loving skubula out of me. I say this as a confession. I don’t have Jesus’ eyes for everyone, much less his heart. I have several people in my life right now whom I am trying to like, pushing hard uphill, and also choosing to love. That means I am choosing loving actions toward them, while working against my negative feelings.
Answer me this, honestly: have you gotten on Facebook or some other social medium and come away disliking people more?
Yeah, me too.
The first absolute truth I listed, true for everyone, everywhere is that we treat others the way we want to be treated. Jesus’ primary commandments are to love God and love your neighbor as yourself.
I am not obeying these commandments when I reinforce my dislike for people with whom I disagree. And most of the disagreements are over preferences and opinions!
I’m a passionate person. I can get excited easily, and honestly, sometimes I enjoy getting worked up, whether over a game, a movie, a book, or a blog. But this isn’t necessarily a good thing for me. If I can look at something you’ve posted and say, “You’re a jackass,” then chances are I’m not focusing on how to love you better, as I love myself.
This all sounds good until we try to apply it. Then it can get very tense.
Take Black Lives Matter. You probably have some reaction, just reading that. You likely have formed an opinion about it. I have a friend who tells me he used to be pulled over every night, driving through a Chicago suburb on his way home from work. Pulled over and ordered to get out of the car, lay down spread eagle on the ground, frisked. Finally, one night a policeman said, “You aren’t learning. We don’t want you to drive here.”
His opinion of the Black Lives Matter campaign is formed by his experience. My opinion of the Black Lives Matter campaign is influenced by his experience, because he is my friend and I care for him and know he tells the truth. His friendship and many others’ have influenced how I see this. I must add here that I haven’t experienced these things directly–though I have at times witnessed my friends being mistreated–and it is through my relationships that I’ve come to have a different view than I would if I were going by only what has happened to me.
You might dislike this campaign. You might have strong reasons for your opinions. I see memes and posts expressing their opposition to it all the time. As I ponder the reasons to oppose it, I find myself deconstructing them. This shows that I have a strong opinion and that I believe my own opinion, though I have also seen things from the campaign that I disagreed with or found disturbing.
I also have a close, lifelong friend who serves as a police officer. He is a man who does his utmost to protect his community and carry out his very difficult job with honor and integrity. We disagree over some issues and I don’t anticipate that we will be reconciling those differences of opinion any time soon. That’s okay. We still respect each other and will always be brothers. (Heck, we ran that 3200 meter relay together.) Sympathizing with the intentions of Black Lives Matter does not mean I disrespect or wish harm on any police who seek to do their job as my friend does. I’m grateful for their service in a job I would never want.
What I don’t believe, and won’t believe, is that if you oppose Black Lives Matter you must be KKK, Nazi, or at the very least racist deep in your bones. You aren’t my enemy. I don’t assume that everything out of your mouth is stupid rhetoric quoted from
evil people out to destroy the world sources with which I disagree. Even if we talk through this and find no common understanding, I want to keep you among humanity, still on solid footing with those made in God’s image. I want you to do the same for me.
“The propagandist’s purpose is to make one set of people forget that certain other sets of people are human.”
–Aldous Huxley, from “The Olive Tree” (1936).
We don’t have to share the same opinion to respect each other. I may truly dislike your opinions about some things, but I can still like and respect you. Those are choices we make. Hating and distrusting and categorizing each other as the enemy are also choices we make, they’re just easier to make a lot of the time because we can simply ride emotions and not do the work of thinking, or seeking to have empathy and compassion. Not trying to love one another as we want to be loved.
Please don’t think I am trivializing important issues; I would hope I’m elevating the importance of how we regard one another. If I forget you’re human, or treat you as if you’re not, I’ve lost more than an argument. Likewise, being able to disagree honestly helps us deepen our friendships, and shows more mutual respect than silently demeaning while smiling to the other’s face.
I know I’m more fond of words than most people, but I really believe that keeping “opinion” and “preference” in the forefront of our minds can help. I suspect the hardest thing to believe is that someone who holds an opinion diametrically opposed to mine could have intelligent, logical, rational, well-founded reasons for that opinion.
Some things are true for everyone, but we we are in grave danger when we decide that our preferences, views, or opinions must be true for everyone.
So tell me again why you don’t like chocolate?
*This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA.