Sunday, January 13, 2013

Let's Talk

It has long bothered me that the two conversations topics that have become taboo around the dinner table are religion and politics.  These are topics that literally touch every one of us in some way, are at the heart of most of the conflicts we see, and could each have the resources and ideas needed to solve some of our biggest challenges.  And yet we can't talk about them because emotions run too high.

How on earth do we ever expect our elected officials to get anything done if we can't even have civil conversations ourselves?

I've been talking a lot about this with friends and family lately and I think a big part of the problem is that we tend to adopt the idea that we have the corner on truth and people who think differently than us are either crazy, misinformed, or just plain ignorant.  I have to confess that I have been part of the problem.  I am ashamed to admit that I once told a friend of mine that I believed conservatives were simply not as intellectually advanced as more moderate to liberal voices.  That is exactly what lies at the heart of the great political divide with which we are currently faced.  I don't want to be part of the problem any more.

I grew up fairly conservative.  I attended pro-life rallies, I thought that homosexuals and people who got abortions were some kind of evil that I would never understand.  But then something happened.  I found out my best friend was gay.  Talk about having your thinking challenged.  And then I spent two years in social work where I was forced to face the reality that issues like abortion may not be quite as simple as I once believed.  I began to understand that these types of issues may be more shades of grey (likely fifty of them, to be precise) than black and white.  It's more complicated than drawing a line in the sand.

And I don't think Jesus really drew lines in the sand.

So, in trying to get to a point where more civil conversations are possible, I started analyzing why I had such a hard time with conservative thinking.  I believe it stems from the fact that being raised in an Evangelical Christian tradition indoctrinated me with this idea that we had the truth and the only way the world would be saved is for everyone else to accept the same truth we did.  The question I always had is, how do we know we're right?  And I think this is the crux of the issue.  Everyone is absolutely convinced that they have it right.  At least that's how I felt for a long time.

There's something within our nature that propels us not toward people who are different from us, but people who are similar.  I used to use this argument as a reason that being conservative didn't make any sense.  My conservative friends and family simply hadn't had the necessary experience to bring them to a more moderate and liberal mindset.  What a prideful crock of shit.  I just exchanged one for the other; in my reaction against judgmental conservative Christianity, I became my own form of judgmental liberal.  What I really think we need is more moderates on both sides.

Take, for example, my father and I.  I have had a somewhat incendiary relationship with my father over the years, as is the case in most father and son relationships.  There were times that it seemed easier to simply not talk about certain things with my dad because it only led to both of us being upset.  But we didn't quit.  And I'm so glad we didn't.  As we continued to dialogue over the years, something happened.  It turns out we have a lot more in common than would initially appear and I think we've both come back closer to the center because of our conversations.  And that's what it's really all about, balance.

To my liberal friends, I understand that sometimes more conservative viewpoints can be very hard to stomach.  I get it.  When you are talking to someone who clearly believes that you are wrong and possibly even going to hell because of your beliefs, it can be difficult to maintain objectivity.  But don't become guilty of the same ignorance often attributed to conservatives by not allowing them to think differently than you.

To my conservative friends, this country was founded on the idea that people could have the freedom to be who they are without too much government interference.  I understand that you have issues with things like gun control and mandatory health insurance because that seems like government interference into private affairs.  But please keep in mind that many liberals feel that legislation around social issues like abortion and gay marriage are also government interference into private affairs.  Also, we're not all baby-killers and sexual miscreants.    

I hope that at some point we can begin to trust that none of us wants bad things for this country.  We simply have different ideas on the best path to take.  But we don't need to be threatened by ideas that our different from ours.  We can learn from them.  Let's stop waiting for something to happen and just do it ourselves.  Rather than waiting for congress to figure their shit out, let's model for them what civil conversation can look like.

Seriously, let's talk.

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