It began as these threads often do, with a concerned person asking if now’s not the time to discuss gun control when kids are getting murdered, then when is?
The post quickly descended, as they often do, into a heated discussion, then outright ugliness. The young woman who posted the question in the first place did her best to keep the conversation on track, but it got hijacked into attacks on the various attempts to provide facts about gun ownership, gun violence, and all the other heated talking points that swirl around this debate.
One thoughtful young man simply excused himself out when it got nasty. His attempts to introduce facts into the conversation got him splattered with vitriol. He said, simply, “I’ll see myself out.”
At some point, to keep your sanity, you have to. The problem is that it’s not about gun control, or abortion, or any other difficult topic that we live with today. It’s about our inability to talk about anything at all without becoming entrenched in our POV, and wholly unable and unwilling to accept any other viewpoint as valid if it doesn’t happen to track with our own.
The Ability to Debate Difficult Issues is a Sign of Maturity
This kind of mindless, bull headed, blindered and righteous thinking is what leads to war. On any front, from the online viciousness to the international stage where such petty, immature posturing could well throw the world under a nuclear cloud.
The ability to debate, to consider, to hear each other’s viewpoints is part of maturity. The skill of listening to understand is rare indeed these days. Most folks negate anything that is said and wait their turn to pummel their points on others. The fury behind this righteousness isn’t hard to understand at all.
We’re scared- we all are. We are scared of change and how things are shifting under us, we’re scared of a landscape we don’t recognize. We’re scared of a lot of things. The problem is that too many of us are desperate for black and white answers in a world where everything is, “Well it depends.” Life is all about shadings. That’s terrifying when we are looking to leaders, or gurus, or parents, or family for something to believe in that is absolutely for sure. Nothing is for sure. It depends.
The Desire for Black and White Answers
We are simply unable to accept that there is no final word that we can count on. That’s why so many revert to extremism, extreme religions, and cults (which are much the same thing) where the fantasy of real answers appears to exist. The false sense of security that such final black and white lines provide us lead to an addiction to being right.The other is the need to feel superior, which is borne of that sense of righteousness. My race, my God, my way of life are all superior to yours. Elitism by any other name. Every race on Earth has this basic assumption, until education, awareness, experience, travel or personal growth prove otherwise.
What we see in today’s difficult debates is “I’m right, you’re wrong, end of story.”
We see this manifest in the ugliness online, in the divorce rate, in every aspect of our lives. It’s manifest in Congress, every level of scientific debate. If what you say doesn’t support my world view then it can’t possibly be correct. The need to feed ourselves with only that information that validates US and repudiates any other viewpoint.
In the Sandbox with the other Toddlers
It’s a wholesale descent into madness, as well as putting us back in the sandbox with other toddlers. The weapons are far more dangerous than our Leggos and Gumby dolls. We are seeing this play out with puerile name calling and verbal fisticuffs with the deeply disturbed leader of North Korea, and I daresay our own president. And this with breathtakingly little concern for the potential loss of life, human, animal and sea. It boggles the mind. To wit, our insult-hurling leader got “sentenced to death” by North Korea for calling its leader “fat.” This is the level of discourse we have plummeted to in today’s world.
This is what children do. This is what stands for American diplomacy. No wonder we have difficulty engaging in mature conversations anywhere else.
Diplomacy is born of the ability to embrace other’s viewpoints and concede that they have validity. That’s maturity. Acknowledging those viewpoints doesn’t cost us- a belief that extreme thinkers have. All that does is allow someone else to have a right to a perspective. We don’t have to agree. The simple act of being heard, being seen, takes anxiety down, relieves stress, and creates room to explore. In an increasingly insensitive world, when someone else gives us time to vent without berating our viewpoints, it’s a gift. And boy is it rare.
We Earn our POV, But It’s Also Important to Listen
I happen to be pro-choice and anti-gun. Those are viewpoints that were born of personal experience and a lot of agonizing thought. However that doesn’t give me the right to say that those who don’t agree with me are stupid, a**holes, and need to be kicked out of the country. My responsibility is to listen, with interest and empathy, to alternative viewpoints. I can’t quite cotton with extremism, but when someone wants to express what they think and how they got there, therein lies an education for us both. I have the opportunity to learn where someone else’s ideas were born, and with luck, vice versa. In this exploration we inevitably find common ground, which takes work.
On the thread mentioned above, I wrote that ALL of us want the shootings to stop. ALL of us want our kids to be safe. ALL of us want an America that isn’t terrorized from within. Those should be our starting points- where we agree. If I look for areas of commonality, those become the building blocks of cooperation. If all I care about is my view and I do nothing other than sling fecal matter at my conversational partner, then, well, we have what we have today on Facebook, the godfather of this kind of hateful exchange, and Twitter and just about everywhere else.
I am no fan of the NRA’s tactics. I do, however, have as my closest friends and adoptive family a big slew of Republican NRA members. Their love of sport shooting takes up a lot of our Christmas discussion. They are very responsible people, gun owners and sportsmen. This is just one place where I learn other views that don’t always track with mine. And I am in every way better for these relationships. My ability to be in the world is served by my willingness to hear what others have to say, even if it is very difficult.
Why is that important? Because so many of us take do or die positions out of fear, fear of what they believe they are losing, fear they aren’t being heard, fear that they are caught up in a tsunami wave. Denigrating their beliefs is tantamount to denigrating their fear, and that’s kerosene on the fire. No wonder people are so angry.
The Power of Validating Others
Validating others also validates us. It’s kind, respectful, gracious. It’s a level of communication that has been swept away by the spouting of simplistic one liners which rile folks up and get them behind movements sometimes even they don’t understand. Such is crowd mentality. The problem is, once folks have signed on, they often feel the need to justify their decision even if they themselves have second thoughts. The need to be right at all costs.
People who disagree with us aren’t bad people. Nor are they necessarily stupid or ignorant or whatever the insult of the day may be. It’s fair to say they came to their positions rightfully. As did you, or me, or anyone else.
To be great, to be a great country, a great society, takes moral courage. If America is to be great again, then we need to follow the example led by our forefathers who debated, disagreed mightily, fought, argued, but eventually heard each other out. The Declaration that came of that morass of challenging discussion led to us, today. I have a great-great-great who was a signer of that document. I feel the burden to live up to its expectations, not only because of that but because I wore the uniform to protect that docuement and what it stands for.
We have lost our way. America was born of compromise, diplomacy, and courageous people who created something that we are losing: a land where we value differences. Of opinion, of race, of ways of worship, of ways of perceiving, of simply how we choose to live our lives.
There is no right or wrong unless we are talking about crime. Having a different opinion isn’t a crime. It’s the beginning of an education. An educated, respectful society that values others’ way to think and be doesn’t foment fear.
Without fear of being made wrong for our beliefs, we can begin to truly communicate with each other, and find answers to the problems we all share.
It’s worth a try.