A few weeks back I wrote my first article on the subject of civil discourse. This week I wanted to discuss a way I am working on improving my practice of the subject. One of the political podcasts I listen to asked a question that really resonated with me. They asked who we followed on social media. Did we follow anyone who disagreed with our political opinions or did we stay in a safe zone with friends who agreed with us. I realized that I wasn’t following anyone whose viewpoints were opposite mine, so I started seeking those people out. At first it felt very uncomfortable reading their opinions and posts because many are so hostile towards people who have similar views as I do. One person in particular tends to lump Democrats into a single group of Anti-American homophobes. His posts tend to bring out strong feelings in me because I’m not that way at all. But in thinking about it I started wondering what had happened in his life to make him feel this way. I continue to follow him because I want to learn more about his opinions. At first I didn’t comment on his posts because it felt too risky to draw attention to myself. But I’m getting braver and starting to challenge him on certain things. For example, a week or so ago he mentioned his belief that people who come to this country need to assimilate to “our culture.” So, I asked him what he saw as being “our culture”. I’m still waiting for a response I know I probably won’t get any time soon. But, as I’m figuring out, part of civil discourse is discussion, so I need to engage others in conversation about what their opinions are. That alone pushes me, an introvert, out of my comfort zone which is incredibly difficult. Will people challenge my beliefs and my opinions? I know they will and some might not be as “civil” about it as I will always try to be. But it’s all part of my education in learning about other viewpoints on subjects. And that’s what really matters to me.
“United we stand, divided we fall. Let us not split into factions which must destroy the union upon which our existence hangs.” Patrick Henry 1799
The heads on the television are talking over each other again. It seems to have become a staple of cable news stations today. They come in with their talking points ready to express their views but not ready to listen to the other side. This is the situation the media shows us over and over. People arguing over issues rather than listening to each other and maybe learning. Maybe even realizing that they agree on more than they could have ever imagined. It seems like the society the media shows has become one where if someone disagrees with you they are the enemy and have to be ridiculed and insulted until they go away. For example I responded to a tweet on Twitter regarding the removal of Confederate statues in the United States. Almost immediately I was attacked by a guy I didn’t even know who called me a “traitor.” I responded with respectful responses and he eventually gave up when he couldn’t outwardly rattle me. I’ve only recently begun to voice my opinion online and to have a total stranger go from zero to sixty on me was an eye-opening experience to say the least. But that’s what we keep seeing happening over and over again. If you don’t agree with someone you use schoolyard tactics such as name-calling and bullying. Even the President of the United States behaves this way towards those who criticize or speak out against him. How are our children supposed to learn to be civilized and active listeners if the people they are supposed to look up to can’t do it? Shouldn’t he, at least, be held to a higher standard? As you may have noticed, I keep putting the focus on the media because they choose to show society in this light. Confrontation makes for higher ratings. But is it an accurate vision of the majority of the citizenry in this country? I believe there are countless people out there who are capable of civil discourse. They strive to practice this because it’s the only way our country can survive is by working together towards a common goal. We have become a country divided by “us” and “them” in an alarmingly short period of time. I realize there has always been an undercurrent of this, but it seems like recently it has become a very sharp divide. It’s easier to hold onto one’s beliefs than learn about others, and I get that. We live in the information age where there is so much information out there it is overwhelming. The work that needs to be done in order to understand other opinions on subjects seems daunting. And it is, but our country’s future hinges on our dedication to be united or at least more united than we have been in recent years. And that is going to happen when we take the time to learn about our supposed opponents and find a way to treat each other’s opinions with respect and compassion.