American elections are just around the corner (by “just around the corner,” I mean well over a year away), so Facebook is filling up with lots of political opinions. I too like sharing my opinions. There’s nothing wrong with a healthy argument. But there seems to be this unhealthy concept floating around that if you and I share different opinions, we must spew venom on each other.
It goes like this:
I like “Presidential Candidate A.” You like “Presidential Candidate B.” Therefore, one of us is awful and probably will go to hell and should be ostracized and forced to change sides.
I hold “Religious Position A.” You hold “Religious Position B.” Since we disagree, one of us awful and probably will go to hell and should be ostracized and forced to change sides.
And we show total unkindness to that person. Because their thoughts don’t look like our thoughts. Facebook makes it easy to be cruel because we aren’t looking into the eyes of a fellow human with feelings. We’re looking at a screen. We can’t feel love for a screen.
No person is the same with identical experiences. It makes sense that we all have different opinions. It also makes sense that we are attached to them. We’re shouting, “I believe this – why don’t you, you idiot?!” But really what we’re saying is, “X, Y, and Z happened in my life that convinced me of this thing – when you disagree, you’re denying this deep part of my being.”
For example, my experience taught me that divorce is sometimes necessary. When people post quotes or articles that say marriage must be fought for at all costs, I sometimes feel defensive. Though I’m sure the person who posted it was talking about the normal, difficult, day-to-day fight to keep a relationship. They weren’t talking about desperate situations that lead to divorce.
Or maybe they were. And then we would disagree. But I don’t have to hate that person now. I can disagree and even debate the argument. I could give examples or statistics on why divorce is sometimes necessary or share my story. But attacking them by saying or implying that they are stupid or horrible or broken or going to hell simply because we disagree would be unloving and a weakness on my part.
One rule great debaters follow is to attack the argument itself, not the arguer. When you attack the person who holds the position – their character, attributes, personalities, or family – it’s called ad hominem, and it’s considered weak. Your debate skills are not strong enough to attack the argument, so you attack the arguer.
A family friend once told me that my family should fix me because I’m liberal. This person wondered how I could come from such a superb family and wanted to pray that I’d reconcile with Jesus so I could still go to heaven. (sigh). This was not arguing with my points or opinions; it was attacking me. To this person, I was oil; they were water. We couldn’t combine. But our opinions don’t change our makeup – we are all still people trying to figure it all out.
And opinions are, in the end, just opinions. The second we start treating them like absolute truths for every single person on this planet is when we start to look a little more like a Vice-God-Wannabe and less like a person.
We can disagree and still be kind people. We can disagree and still rally around the things we do agree on. We can disagree and still honor the fact that we are different people with different minds occupying the same planet, and yet still PEOPLE. The second it becomes a personal attack, and the second kindness gets thrown out the window, the battle has been lost.
Trust me, I’m speaking to myself too.
You know the popular bumper sticker that has all those religious symbols spelling “Tolerance”? I’ve heard a thousand times that tolerance can’t happen because these faiths are too different. Well, I agree that tolerance shouldn’t be the goal. Tolerance simply means dealing with somebody else, allowing their existence on this planet. I think we can do better….
“If our goal is to be tolerant of people who are different than we are … then we really are aiming quite low. Traffic jams are to be tolerated. People are to be celebrated”