When I agree with someone about a point they make,
it does NOT follow that I agree with EVERYthing they say or believe.
When I DISagree with someone about a point they make,
it does NOT follow that I disagree with EVERYthing they say or believe.
If you know me, you know I read and research a lil’ bit. 😉
I often say that I “eat the chicken and spit out the bones” and I’m not talking about barbecue.
I can honestly say I don’t limit my searching and learning to align with my own “latitude of acceptance” as it’s called in communication theory. I have books written by atheists organized alphabetically along with theologians in the apologetic section of my bookshelves. Doesn’t make me a heretic.
I research all sides of an issue because I’ve come to understand that dismissing, ignoring or ridiculing alternative viewpoints doesn’t invalidate them or strengthen my own beliefs.
Very often, this kind of research puts me in the position of recognizing valid points on both sides of a complex issue. There’s tension in that place. Paradox. Conflicting thoughts, opinions and ideas don’t fit together easily. Doesn’t mean the ones we don’t agree with are invalid.
Like I said. Tension and paradox.
But accepting that tension and paradox is what makes it possible for me to agree or disagree with someone about SOME things they say/believe and NOT agree or disagree about EVERYthing they say/believe.
It’s also why I can respect a person who disagrees with me about something without inferring from that disagreement that they are ignorant, hateful, intolerant, “brainwashed” or that their character is severely flawed.
People and issues are complex and understanding is hard work.
Over and over, I see facebook posts by seemingly kind people instructing friends who [they perceive] believe differently than they do to “unfriend” them.
This week, I saw a post from an HR consultant on LinkedIn, declaring they would not work with anyone who [they perceive] believe differently than they believe.
I have more than a few problems with this increasing cancel culturereaction to diversity. And by definition, I believe the word diversity is accurate.
I included [they perceive] because
perception isn’t always accurate, the issues facing us today are incredibly complex and most people aren’t myopic simpletons.
1. Perception is subjective.
Our perception (a way of understanding or interpreting something)
is skewed by our
perspective (a particular attitude toward or point of view)
Consider the possibility that we have more in common that it may appear at first glance.
people who believe and act differently than we do, actually want and value the same things but differ only in their strategies for pursuing those shared goals?
people who believe differently than we do are intelligent and informed about facts, but differ only in their interpretations and conclusions about those facts?
the labels we use to describe people who believe differently than we do actually dehumanizes them and prevents us from seeing them as unique individuals, much less understanding or empathizing with them?
our perception of the “other guy” is wrong? What would we find out about them as human beings if we didn’t unfriend them or refuse to work with them?
2. When an issue truly is “clear” or “simple” there isn’t extensive controversy over it.
Time and time again, I see people completely disregarding conflicting ideas as invalid or irrelevant in their efforts to justify and validate their own view. I’ve said this before:
Dismissing alternative viewpoints doesn’t strengthen your argument or your credibility.
It weakens the first and erodes the second.
If our reasoning can’t stand on it’s own merit and stand strong against questions or counter arguments, it needs some work. And if our reasoning needs work, we might consider listening to the alternative viewpoints as a first step. Allowing them to challenge our assumptions and help us come to a deeper understanding of what we believe so we can explain it. Respectfully.
It’s so. much. easier to call someone by a label instead of by their name, to cut off communication with them and instead surround ourselves with the comfort and familiarity of people who think like us, but we can’t hear different voices if we block ourselves off from their source.
3. Disagreement doesn’t mean people are uninformed, uneducated, racist or brainwashed.
Statements like the ones below assume that people who hold alternative views about the causes of, and solutions to, the problem of racism are only listening to a few well known celebrities “instead of” rather than “in addition to” their friends – and to the alternative views of a significantly larger number of not so famous people with diverse backgrounds, education and credentials:
“…if you are listening to them instead of the black people in your life on a daily basis…You’re doing it wrong.”
“If you’re a white person…quick to post a video of a famous black person agreeing with you, but won’t read a book from a black person with a PhD in their field disagreeing with you, then you aren’t trying to learn, you’re just weaponizing black voices to confirm your own bias.
“If you genuinely want to be part of this conversation, please stop only listening to black voices that prove your white opinion right.”
there are so many of these alternative voices, coming from so many sources, growing louder every day that it’s impossible for us NOT to hear, much less ignore them?
these thoughts and opinions are not just coming from black celebrities but from all walks of life, from multiple socio-ecconomic classes and some with PhDs of their own?
people aren’t just watching youtube video clips and sharing pithy word images?
people are actually reading books, studies and articles – written by authors from both sides, listening to podcasts, interviews and debates AND having authentic, vulnerable conversations with friends who not only don’t look like they do, but also friends who don’t think like they do?
Some might say De Niro sent the strongest message. From the looks of the internet on June 11th, he got more attention than ANYTHING else that happened at the 2018 Tony Awards the night before.
If you searched “Tonys” on Monday morning, google auto suggested “Tonys De Niro” and if you clicked on google images you were deluged with scowls and fists in the air.
Of course, the images immediately flooded my mind with childhood memories of Burgermeister Meisterburger.
(in the words of Dr. Raymond Stantz, “I couldn’t help it. It just popped in there.”)
De Niro’s words were bleeped in many of the videos and redacted in print,
but I was watching live and I knew what he said the moment he said it:
“Me. Me Me Me Me. ME!!”
Never mind who won a Tony.
Never mind the multiple phenomenal performances by the nominees.
Never mind the talent or music of Bruce Springsteen, whose performance De Niro was on stage to introduce.
Not a single award or performance garnered more internet real estate than Robert De Niro on the the morning of June 11, 2018.
You can’t buy that kind of publicity.
But there were two other messages from the Tony Awards that hit home for me.
It’s been a week and I’m still thinking about
the juxtaposition of this…
The Acceptance Speech by Orin Wolf, Producer of The Band’s Visit
(2018 Tony Award Winner for Best Musical):
“Music gives people hope and makes borders disappear. Although the characters are strangers to each other with great political divides, our show offers a message of unity in a world that more and more seems bent on amplifying our differences. In the end, we are far more alike than different and I’m so proud to be part of a community that chooses to support that message.” [emphasis added]
Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m thinkin Orin Wolf didn’t hurriedly scribble his acceptance speech in his seat as a response to De Niro hijacking the microphone. I believe Wolf thoughtfully prepared that speech and intentionally wrote those words to express what he believed to be true.
For the most part, the 2018 Tony Awards were a short and welcome reprieve from the bludgeoning of “a world that more and more seems bent on amplifying our differences.” Hosts Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles were clearly focused on honoring excellence in Broadway theatre:
“…our job throughout the night is…to celebrate all the people in that room, who put in all their effort eight times a week and deserve to be there for all the right reasons. We’re focusing on that positive energy and all the ways that theater can bring people together.” Josh Groban
And it appeared they were succeeding.
What happened in that span of 28 seconds?
Did the applause and cheering of hundreds of people turn Wolf’s gracious words into a crumbled facade and him into a naive idealist patronized by frauds?
or did he expose their duplicity and momentarily shame them into silence?
Both of those possibilities are awful.
I’m thankful for the 1% rule of internet culture and pray that Monday morning’s tsunami of De Niro praising came from the loudest of the 1% and not the remaining 99%. I pray that the majority was silent because words failed them after witnessing people who seemed so gracious and accepting moments before, instantly pivot on a single word of vulgarity and belie their true thoughts and feelings while smiling. and cheering. and whistling. and applauding. on their feet. in support of a hateful polemic.
De Niro’s message was a selfish expression of hate. And it was loud.
Orin Wolf’s message was a call to unity, encouraging us to bridge “great political divides.”
But the message of that 28 second reveal stripped the audience of their credibility like a wizard behind a curtain.
It leaves me wondering who in the Tony’s audience that night is genuinely “part of a community that chooses to support that message” of unity?
Not just for DT, but for everyone who doesn’t overtly hate him.
My facebook feed was toxic, repelling me away.
Post after meme after video after tweet after comment,
reiterating again and again and again and again and again how stupid and intolerable anyone is if they don’t hate
DT – AND everyone who “supports” him.
I think I’ve actually been grieving. genuinely, profoundly sad.
not because DT is the president.
The long term impact (positive and/or negative) of these next four years is yet to be evidenced.
not because people think I’m [insert contemptuous label here] because I don’t hate the same people they do.
I’ve been hated and shunned for being different before. It’s no fun, but it’s nothing new.
I’m grieving because I can’t un-know what I’ve learned about so many people I genuinely liked and respected:
That they have the capacity to be so callously and unflinchingly VICIOUS towards people who believe differently than they do. And not just because of differences – the actual differences aren’t even being acknowledged, much less discussed. It’s the relentless derisive personal attacks on the character of people who believe differently.
This is the one that finally drove me away:
Burn in Hell? Seriously? Burn in HELL?
This person is saying this to their own facebook friends. People they know personally – and supposedly like. This is not the only post like this from this particular person, much less the only post like this from a number of other people in my facebook feed. and I only have about 300 friends. If I actually unfriended every person who demanded that “unfriend them right now!!” if I don’t hate DT or anyone who voted for him, that number would be even lower. I imagine my facebook feed is not the only one contaminated with this virulent stream of bigotry.
All this blatant cruelty leaves me with these nagging thoughts:
When someone mocks, ridicules or derisively condemns a group of people,
Do they not realize there’s a strong chance they have a personal relationship with someone they would identify as belonging to that group?
And if they do recognize that some of their friends are “those people,” do they not make the connection that they are mocking and ridiculing and condemning their friend? or family member?
Maybe they themselves didn’t mock anyone. Maybe they just liked or commented or shared a post that does.
Do they not realize that the action of liking, commenting and sharing validates the attack?
And that despite the safety pin they wore or posted online, a percentage of their friends know that the only reason they are safe from outright attack from the safety pin bearer is that they’ve remained silent. under the radar. out of line of sight.
Not that silence keeps anyone safe from judgment and ostracization. Because lack of commiseration makes you suspect. The solidarity of those who hate DT is stronger than a red rover line of linebackers who just picked their nose. Nobody wants to risk going near that. Better to stay away. where it’s REALLY safe.
As a result, many of my facebook friends have been missing. Silent. For months.
I completely understand.
Why would anyone want to engage in conversation with someone who thinks they are stupid?
Why would anyone make themselves vulnerable to attack by someone who’s evidenced that they prefer to talk ABOUT them as an enemy than WITH them as a friend?
so. What have I’ve been grieving?
The loss of authentic friendships? or the loss of the illusion of those friendships?
The loss of my naivety? or the discovery that I didn’t know people as well as I thought I did.
Maybe people had misrepresented themselves and I only knew the persona they wanted me to know.
Whatever the reason, the breadth and cruelty – and tenacity – of these expressions of hatred and intolerance have genuinely shocked me.
I’m trying to tell myself that, in the long run, it’s better that I know the truth, not only about what some of my friends are capable of, but also what they think of me.
Right now, it doesn’t feel like it’s better.
All that interpersonal destruction aside, the question that comes back to me again and again is this:
When someone attacks, mocks, ridicules or derisively condemns, why is it that the validation of their opinions and beliefs seem to require and thrive on the ridicule of people who hold to different opinions and beliefs? Are the opinions and beliefs not strong enough to stand on their own merit?
This morning, I followed a link in my facebook news feed to an article about a family who was praying for a loved one fighting cancer. It wasn’t the article that hit me. It was the comments. Comment. After comment. After comment. After comment.
Strongly, condescendingly and sarcastically deriding prayer.
And people who pray.
The comments by this collection of seemingly unrelated anti-theists made me genuinely sad. And no, not condescendingly sad for them in a “because they don’t believe in God” kind of way. Sad because they are being so intentionally and aggressively insulting and offensive. To complete strangers. Some of those complete strangers have experienced suffering I can’t imagine. And prayer helped them get through that suffering.
At the time of this writing, there were over 250 comments on that article, a large chunk written by anti-theists.
So much time and effort to go out of their way to attack people who, when it comes right down to it, really aren’t important to them. Regardless of whether that family’s loved one lives or dies, the life of the anti-theist commenter isn’t going to be impacted in the slightest bit.
The question that comes to my mind is this: If prayer really is pointless and people who pray are really mumbling to an “invisible man in the sky,” why do these anti-theists even care? Why are they wasting time with faceless people they perceive to be so ignorant and insufferable?
I’ve intentionally been referring to these commenters as anti-theists, not atheists. There’s a difference between someone who doesn’t believe in God and someone who goes out of their way – again and again and again – to aggressively express their disrespect, and sometimes their disgust, for people who do believe in God.
It makes me sad. As Elle Woods might say, “Happy atheists don’t care if Christians pray. They just don’t.”
That said, many of the follow-up comments on that article by people claiming to be Christians make me ashamed.
I hate derisive sarcasm. I have some pretty strong opinions about it. It’s different from joking sarcasm. Derisive sarcasm reeks of contempt. It shuts down dialog. It erodes relationships. It demoralizes. It poisons trust. In my own personal experience, it’s a weapon often wielded by the cowardly and insecure. People who either avoid assertive conflict resolution or lack the skills to communicate openly and honestly. Do I think all people who consistently rely on derisive sarcasm as a communication tool weapon are cowardly and insecure?
To be completely honest, yes. yes I do.
Did I mention I had some strong opinions about it? And don’t assume the reason I don’t use derisive sarcasm is because I think I’m above it. I don’t use it because I grew up a bleeding victim of it and I’m vehemently opposed to perpetuating that kind of abuse. It’s by the grace of God that I was able to break free of that destructive behavior.
Some people grow up barraged with sarcasm, develop a resilience to it, adopt it as normal and wear it permanently holstered to their side for easy and instant access when someone doesn’t meet their expectations.
When I witness derisive sarcasm or someone uses it on me, I freely admit that person instantly loses my respect. That’s my knee-jerk reaction. I have to ask God to help me respond instead of react. I have to ask God to help me see them as He sees them. Sometimes I have to ask God to help me want to ask Him to help me see them as He sees them. As just a different kind of broken. Deserving grace. Because He loves them.
I’ve learned that pain can sometimes manifest itself by causing more pain. Sometimes I forget that.
It would appear I’m not the only one.
Many of the professed Christians who commented exhibited the same arrogance and sarcasm as the anti-theists did.
And I said professed Christians, not Christians. Reading these comments, I can’t always tell if someone is a genuine disciple of Christ.
I think that very often, when we stumble upon these kind of comment thread quagmires, both the anti-theists and the professed Christians are so vocal we sometimes forget there are genuine disciples of Christ who respond to sarcastic smack-downs with grace. We forget there are open-minded atheists who support another’s right to believe something even when that belief differs from their own.
If you are a genuine disciple of Christ who personally knows an open-minded atheist or an open-minded atheist who personally knows a genuine disciple of Christ, you know what I mean.
The truth is, I rarely jump in these caustic conversations. Not because I don’t care, but because, from the intensity of the back and forth between the anti-theists and the professed Christians, I know there’s no point. My voice would be ignored and I have no need to hear myself talk. I have no confidence that anyone involved in these conversations is listening for understanding. There’s very little interest in an edifying dialog.
It’s more like a tit for tat. A theological and/or metaphysical urinary olympics. Notice I didn’t say spiritual. There ain’t nothing spiritual about these comment threads. Notice I said comment threads, not conversations. There’s not a lot of communication happening.
When it comes right down to it, I don’t jump in the middle of these mutual smack-downs because I’ve learned that people don’t change their mind as a result of someone berating them.
More often, people’s hearts are softened as a result of someone responding to them with empathy.
More often, minds are opened when they are allowed to doubt and explore without judgement.
More often, people hear better after someone has listened to them.
More often, people can’t see until they’ve been seen.