Public discourse seems to have reached a new low. It was bad enough when our idea of engaging those we disagree with was to shout at them. But now, perhaps because we seem to be recognizing this is not a particularly productive strategy, we’ve come up with a new one. We shame them.
Whether it’s sexual orientation, political persuasion, or a disputed legal decision, we no longer even try to discuss the issues. Instead we seek to claim the high ground, showing how affronted, appalled, amazed, astounded we are that anyone in their right mind could ever think, do, or decide other than what we believe to be right. We take offense rather than giving grace.
America seems to have become an indig-nation.
Conservatives and liberals are equally guilty. The right majors on moral sanctimony, while the left emphasizes intellectual superiority. Too often both sides reek of their own brand of smugness.
But this isn’t going to get us anywhere. Self-righteous disdain won’t encourage a “national conversation” on anything. Looking down your nose at someone doesn’t invite them to the table, it sends them to their room. You don’t encourage someone to consider other evidence by passing judgment on them.
Maybe some of us could start by just trying to really listen to what those we differ sharply from are actually saying, for once. It has worked in the past.
When I lived in Colorado Springs in the early to mid-nineties, the city was experiencing some real cultural tensions. They’d arisen as numerous Christian organizations had arrived in the city following in the footsteps of James Dobson and his ministry. This sudden religious influx made some liberals so uncomfortable that, for a time, the favorite bumper sticker around town was Focus On Your Own Damn Family.
Then, a few folks on either side of the deepening divide decided to get together and be courteous. What developed was a network of dinner groups where people from markedly different backgrounds met over a meal, treated each other graciously, and found they even had some things in common. I don’t know that anyone ever changed their mind, but that wasn’t the point. “Them” became people they knew and, gosh, even liked a bit.
One of my sons and I have a similar sort of thing going on. We are polar opposites on just about everything—except, perhaps, the joy of reading, the beauty of soccer, and the pleasure of coffee. When he was a teenager and I was a twit, we spent most of our time arguing our corner. Now we’re genuinely more interested to try to hear the other out. In fact, when the latest brouhaha develops, we usually ask each other to name the dumbest things said and done by their own “side.”
The thing about being on a high horse is that you’re likely to get knocked off. Ask Saul. And remember that the convictions that had him on his way to Damascus when he was unseated were majorly religious. He had to be brought down before the scales came off his eyes.
May we all drop the condescension. Shame on us for shaming them. At least, that’s what I think. And if you don’t agree, well then I am very, very offended by you. Humph.