I wrote this blog about Our True Nature (as opposed to a sin nature) and the need for Christians who do not line up with evangelical fundamentalism to speak up. Two days later my husband posted the image to the left from Kissing Fish on his wall. Other than the timing being ironic I honestly don’t think his post was meant as a response to mine. It did, however, cause me to think.
Can people honestly disagree and remain kind? Personally, I believe such a discussion is more than possible–it is the only way to participate in intelligent, productive, problem solving. Yet sadly, in our over-sensitive, entertainment oriented, high speed world, irenic debate is a lost art form. It “doesn’t work” for the media because kind isn’t exciting or suspenseful. It doesn’t create drama or move at a quick enough pace. In short, nice doesn’t hold the audience long enough to go to commercials.
Our family doesn’t subscribe to HBO so this Christmas my son got me the first season of the made for HBO series The Newsroom. The only thing wrong with The Newsroom is that it’s fiction. In my not so humble opinion, NEWS ought to be done the way The Newsroom does the news. Politicians and experts ought to be held accountable for what comes out of their mouths and what they mean by what they say. Furthermore, they ought to be expected to say things that matter, that address the real issues, and that lead to solutions. Name calling ought to be left to the kindergarteners and they ought to be reprimanded for doing it so they learn a better way to work through their problems. Facts ought to be important. And finally, where the money comes from ought to be public knowledge. That said, this post really isn’t about what’s wrong with the news or politics. Instead let’s take my little rant and ask a couple questions. First, is there a specific point of view? Second, was it stated kindly?
I would answer both those questions with a resounding, yes. The point of view is obvious–compared to actual news coverage The Newsroom, a fictionalized version, does a better job getting to the truth and covering what counts. My rant made this point without name calling, lying, slander, or vulgar language. I didn’t even use exclamation points, bold type, capitals, or italics to add emphasis. Therefore it successfully engaged in irenic debate.
So what’s my point? We need to grow up. We need to be willing to defend our position on the topics we consider important enough to post with well reasons, polite arguments. We need to care more about understanding the other side than in being “liked” by the people who already agree with us. And, we need to expect the same from those we call our friend and more from those we call our leaders. So, what’s the problem?
In most conversations I’ve had with conservative Christians, nice always agrees with leadership. It is never critical. It never asks questions. And, it never suggests a point of view other than what the Bible clearly says (according to the leadership). Nice smiles a lot and praises a lot and only does name calling where sin is involved. Kind Christians don’t usually swear or use foul language though some of the terminology they do use might be offensive to others. (They frankly don’t care). My primary experience in these circles is in order to be seen as nice the individuals simply avoid discussion. They write updates that present their points of view or post links that espouse a point of view they share. But, they don’t tend to answer questions or explain the whys and wherefores of what they’ve posted and they often suggest it’s unkind to be asked to do so by others. For these people nice is synonymous with agreeable.
In most of the I-don’t-identify-as-a-Christian-especially-on-Facebook conversations I’ve had, whether conservative or liberal in their point of view, nice seems relatively unimportant. Many still avoid vulgar language but snarky put-downs are too often equated with wit, name calling and slander are decidedly NOT off limits, and bullying in the form of talking over the top of people, picking on minor slip ups, or making people the butt of a joke is standard fare. While discourse is not necessarily avoided debating the actual issue is. My experience in most of these circles is often frustrating and galling. Character assassinations are equated with reasoned debate, strawmen are built and then argued against as though they represented the opposition’s point, and extremist views are used as if they speak for the middle or the majority. For these people nice is boring or worse–unintelligent.
Sadly, my experience has shown both groups to be more interested in preserving their public image within their own social groups than in engaging in actual dialogue, forget irenic debate. Meanwhile the media is quite happy to shine the spotlight on the problems, the cat fights, and the vocal extremes because doing so keeps an entertainment oriented public watching. Personally, I wonder how dire our problems must get before ferreting out the truth, identifying common ground, and working toward mutually beneficial solutions takes priority over our egos and amusement.
We need leadership. Where is today’s Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi? We need a wake up call. Where are the visionaries that can wake the silent, uninvolved majority from their indifference and despair? We need to turn off the 30 second political ads that pretend to have substance through hyperbole and finger pointing and demand more than talking points from the candidate who want our votes and the people whose job it is to inform us. We must expect real answers to our questions and we must turn off the television or the radio or the microphone when those doing the talking fail to deliver workable ideas, fund-able solutions, and leadership that positively impacts the whole.
I want to be a difference maker. I want those around me to make a difference. When a simple thing like showing up to vote in the next election could actually make a difference I am going to show up to vote. When asking a question not only helps me to understand another person’s point of view but help that person see the world in a more complete way I’m going to ask the question. When people don’t play nice, I’ll remind us all that the rules we learned in kindergarten are still the most productive: Be kind. Use your words to explain your answers. Take turns. Ask questions. And, listen. Engage in irenic debate.