I suppose that what has disturbed me the most these days is how much we are fighting with one another, and how almost any topic results in disagreements. We are tending to classify each other into distinct groups when in reality who we are and how we react to various ideas runs along multiple continuums. The intersection of those things is a complex web rather than the simplistic descriptions that politicians and propagandists often use.
I can choose virtually any idea as an example. Let’s say two people are discussing the Black Lives Matter Movement. It is actually possible to support that group without being gung ho about every single aspect of what many seem to think they represent. If I say that I believe black lives matter it does not mean that I do not think that other lives matter as well. In fact, that would be a rather absurd idea for anyone to believe, but I have had people engage in fierce arguments with me over this very idea. When I try to explain my meaning they generally quit listening or they are already thinking of ways to debate me on the idea. For me black lives matter is a very subtle idea that means that we have to begin placing more value on the lives of black members of our community who are too often instinctively viewed as being dangerous and violent in a very racist way. This kind of thinking is what so often leads to their deaths at the hands of law officers. It is also the reason why black citizens sometimes feel the urge to run from the police in fear for their lives. There is a tension and distrust that we have to address in meaningful ways that will make a difference for everyone.
For me the idea of getting rid of the police is not what defunding them means. In fact I think the term defunding police is a terrible misuse of words for an idea that is really about using fewer funds for military level tactical gear and policing as opposed to employing individuals trained to de-escalate dangerous situations. In truth there are others who say that black lives matter who are far more radical than I am. Lumping all of us together is a tactic designed to avoid a critical discussion of the matter. Over simplifying one another’s beliefs leads to misunderstandings and stalemates. Nothing ever changes when we are unwilling to suspend our own judgments long enough to really hear what others have to say.
The converse of my thinking would be someone who is genuinely concerned about our justice system, but worries that saying black lives matter divides us even more or undermines the safety of our police. If I am to follow my own advice I must be willing to hear what they have to say, and consider how we might be able to blend our thinking. In fact, it is reasonable to say that in the end most of us want the same thing, a safer society for everyone.
Of course we have the radicals who are the outliers along the continuum. They often have frightening beliefs that become the face of each side. Sometimes we actually need them to draw attention to an issue, but then a bit more reasoning must ensue to come up with workable solutions. Sometimes the most radical among us are incredibly right and sounding an alarm that all of us need to hear whether we wish to or not. The important thing is to learn how to actively and critically listen to many points of view.
There are also people who are dangerous and we must learn how to differentiate between them and a young girl who is genuinely concerned about the future of our planet. I see people all the time comparing both democrats and republicans to Nazis. Of course such hyperbole does us little good, but we must be watchful for the real deals who are indeed among us spreading lies and propaganda and racist venom. Sometimes they are cloaked in religion or the American flag but if we listen carefully and watch their actions we soon realize that they are poison.
There is so much noise and misinformation these days that it can be difficult to differentiate and determine who are the good guys and who is against all that is good in humanity. We have to be careful about living in a bubble that feels comfortable but does not provide us with all of the truths that we need to hear no matter how painful that may be. We have to be aware of how our own places on various continuums is influencing us to think and behave. If we only surround ourselves with likeminded people we become an echo chamber that reinforces even the ineffective and erroneous aspects of our thinking.
I do my best to be open minded. It is very rare that I deem anyone to be all good or all bad. I am wary of followers who are unwilling to speak out whenever someone in power demonstrates malfeasance. I much prefer those who speak up when they see wrong doing even if it means losing something in the process. I look for courageous behavior wherever I can find it. There is no perfect leader but of late we have far too many imperfect ones who are being supported for all the wrong reasons without question.
If we don’t begin to admit to the complexities of every single challenge that we face, we are in deep trouble. If we can’t begin to genuinely attempt to hear one another we will become victims of an infinite loop of rancor. The next time someone says or does something that dismays you, don’t immediately argue with them. Take a deep breath and find out where they really stand. Don’t be thinking about how you will debate them. Hear them and then decide where you may share a common concern that might bring both of you to a point of real understanding. That’s when real solutions begin to unfold.