A dangerous trend brewing in this nation for some time has me concerned about the likely future my children and grandchildren face. And though I’m a “Jesus freak” who believes there is truly only one answer for all of the ills of humankind, the reason for my unease is rooted in a reality that disturbs me on a number of levels.
No one wants to listen.
In the noise that has become the landscape of life, one filled with opinion stacked upon opinion from every wingnut with a cellphone and Facebook page, we have become a nation of people afraid that ideas opposed to ours are somehow inherently wrong, and it’s often only because those ideas weren’t our ideas. We’re ready and willing to write off, vehemently oppose, even passionately hate, anyone who doesn’t think exactly as we think they ought.
Many professing conservatives only associate with other conservatives and swear off even a conversation with a liberal. Fox News, and other similar pabulum, can be counted on as their chief source of information. More than a few committed liberals find it distasteful to work with anyone but another liberal. Embrace their list of causes or you have no standing in their circle and, in their mind, no right to have a seat at the table.
Supposed ideology has become personal in a way that keeps many from seeing the person behind the ideas, and we’ve lost sight that sometimes good ideas come from both liberals and conservatives — that we can, on many occasions, work together in the midst of clear ideological differences. Public discourse, exchange of ideas and debate are wrongly labeled as unhealthy, a waste of time or unnecessary.
Please understand, standing on principles is crucial. There are indeed absolutes in our world — an idea foreign in many segments of our “do as you please” society. More than a few of today’s trendy crusades I simply, because of conscience and conviction, can’t and won’t support. There are times when right is simply right, and wrong is still wrong, whether one decides to see such truth or not.
But that doesn’t mean we can stop listening, or caring, or trying to understand. Behind those ideas — no matter, from my perspective, how misguided or naive or dangerous — are people who, just like those I love and try to protect, were made in the image of their creator. Never do we have the right to throw up walls of isolation and bid the rest of the world farewell on their journey to the abyss.
Now, I will readily admit there is the possibility of reaching an impasse in a clash of ideas and opinions. What then?
When did civility become impossible?
Growing up on a small farm in south Georgia, we had a neighbor a couple miles down the road who lived a simple, but profoundly generous, life. I’m not sure he had much wealth — young boys aren’t exactly adept at gauging such things, and the way I was raised it really didn’t matter — but he would often help someone who simply needed a hand up or offer a temporary or part-time job on his farm in times of hardship. Known for his faithfulness at a small church in that rural community, he held strong opinions on a variety of subjects, and would often inject his perspective into the conversation.
As a young boy, I remember he occasionally used a phrase that stuck with me: “We can disagree without being disagreeable.”
I know, self-proclaimed intellectuals will decry such words as ramblings from a simpleton, lumping it with catch-phrases of the moment on Twitter. While that old farmer never negotiated settlements between world leaders or solved the great riddles of humanity — he never held political office, either — I do remember he was respected in that small community. In a crisis, church dispute or family dilemma, more than a few people sought his advice. I don’t know that he ever provided a solution, but I’m pretty sure he at least got the opposing sides to sit down and talk.
Maybe, just maybe, what our nation needs today are some simple folks who show a willingness to listen and treat others with respect, whether they’ve earned that respect or not.
Surely, that approach has to be better than where we find ourselves today.