Monday, January 23, 2017

The Threat of Opposition

Here is where I would like us to get as a culture, to a place where we can cease to see disagreement and opposition as threatening. 

I know that's a lot to ask; didn't Anakin strangle Padme because they wanted fundamentally different things for the Republic?

So, not being threatened by disagreement from people who oppose your ideas takes some trust that they're not going to Force Choke you if they get the chance, and that is absolutely hard.

However, I think it's better for our democracy and our sense of humanity if we can normalize that trust in our culture and give regular disagreement-driven dialogue a chance. 

This is what I loved about Trevor Noah and Tomi Lahren appearing together on one show talking about the issues. Granted, it was utterly fruitless. No one changed their minds and fans of either media personality emerged convinced their side at pwned the convo. But whatever the reaction of their followers, those two individuals proved it is possible to disagree with someone over deeply emotional and value-laden issues and still be relatively blasé about it. Blasé in a good way. 

A friend of mine flipped out when she found out I believe Genesis is literal and historical. She wasn't sure she could have a close personal relationship with someone who so denied logic and science, things that to her are fundamental and non-negotiable. (For the record, I too am a fan of science and logic, but my roommate's experiences lead her to conclude they are incompatible with a literal reading of Genesis. And I disagree, but I see why she would conclude as such, and thus I do not find her perspective threatening.)

To her credit, she has since calmed down and decided that our friendship is not nullified by my crazy beliefs, but this interaction was illustrative for me of just how difficult it is to agree to disagree when the stakes are so high. 

Another friend of mine is in denial that behaviors I label as sexist are indeed a bad thing. I shared a whole spectrum of experiences I've had--being patronized in the workplace, being felt up at bars, being let off easy during traffic stops--but for each anecdote the response was the same: "It's all in your head." Or, "That's not sexism, that's life." This was difficult for me to hear, especially because I don't consider myself a passive victim. How can someone who claims to care about you also say to your that your perspective is fabricated and that you deserve the bad things that happen to you? 

But don't you know it, that person is still my friend. No, we're not as close any more, but I am also acutely aware that while there are experiences which have brought my friend to a perspective that is hostile to my own perspective, he is still a person. Though he does not appreciate that his perspective diminishes my humanity, he is still himself a human, a work in progress, an image bearer. It's not easy to have grace and trust in these disagreements, but it's worth it if it keeps both of us humble.

And I should offer the caveat that I don't necessarily believe it is a good and desirable thing for ALL people to seek harmony with those who deny their identity. I see the pain caused to my gay friends by families that tell them, "We love you but we don't support you." I feel deep offense when acquaintances express support for anti-miscegenation laws or the dissolution of native governments. I get that for many people those relationships may not be worth it. 

But I am also inspired by generations of black folks who have worked inside a system that was not structured for them, and who labored alongside ignorant white folks that did not care about their struggles, but spoke out or sought progress that their humanity would not be ignored. And when white feminists weren't there for civil rights, women of color were still there for feminism. There is so much power in that magnanimity. And there's a lot more common ground up for grabs than we realize.

Maybe I've gotten a bit astray from my original point, because in all reality, for most in my circle, the conservative/liberal friction is not one of identity but of ideology. My peeps are mostly white, middle-class, evangelical, and millennials. No one is telling that cohort that their identities don't matter. So disagreements of ideology, of liberal versus conservative, are considerably easier, to my mind. And maybe I'm a naive moderate for saying so, but I don't think conservativism and liberalism are always mutually exclusive. A car needs both gas and breaks. Americans need both freedom and equality. Our country needs both fiscal responsibility and a social safety net. 

So if I can find it in my heart to move past the misguided rhetoric, warped statistics, cherrypicked anecdotes, and fundamentally different values of the other side, I can appreciate that there must be another way to get a long. Self-righteousness is a terrible poison, and interaction through disagreement bring the antidote of humility.

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