Yesterday I found myself two hours into a four hour road trip and an hour into an increasingly loud disagreement between the husbeast and our notoriously opinionated friend Peter over the nature of MMORPGS (video games like World of Warcraft). At least I think that is what the discussion was about, I got lost in the seemingly circular argument about twenty minutes in and then tuned them out due to lack of interest. This is a fairly common experience and I have gotten used to not paying them much attention at all. In the end they will agree to disagree and move on, eventually forgetting they were arguing at all.
Later on in the ride, and several subject changes later, we began to discuss how it seems that we have reached a point in our society where disagreeing with someone over anything has become tabboo. Any time someone has a differing opinion it is viewed as some sort of intolerable personal attack, no matter how innocuous the topic is. Then things get ugly. Really really ugly.
If you need proof of this just go look at your social media feed. Every single day I see someone losing their shit over someone with a differing opinion than them. Mostly right now it is over the extremely contentions presidential race, or race matters, but I have seen this happen over everything right down to love of pumpkin spice lattes. It is absolutely ridiculous as you see people threatening to sever ties and end friendships because someone does not agree with them.
Are we in grade school here? I like blue and you like yellow so we can't be friends! I like clove and cinnamon and you don't so I can't talk to you anymore! You have differing political and religious views than I do and I will not tolerate such differences in my life!
What is this?!
Intellectual debate and discourse has been a sign of civilized society and an educated mind for most of human history. The ability to speak knowledgeably on a topic and present differing views to promote thought and change is a basic foundation of how we grow and better our society. It is only through discussion with multiple view points that we can see the whole picture, and without this we are left with a two dimensional view of life that can in the end prove to be disastrous.
Just because I do not agree with you does not mean that we can not be friends. I am friends with lots of people who fundamentally disagree with me on a number of topics. I don't expect these people to come around to my point of view, and I certainly hope they are not sitting around waiting for me to start thinking like them. I also hope we could sit down and passionately speak about our views and afterwards have dinner and laugh comfortably about things we have in common. This is what makes relationships interesting and diverse.
There are always going to be topics that we feel passionately about and are mountains that we are prepared to die on. I understand that if you are homosexual and someone is constantly screaming at you that you are going to burn in hell and need to die, that obviously that is an unhealthy relationship and ties should be severed. I am not saying that you can never disagree to the point of not being able to communicate. That does happen and is valid.
What I am saying is that not every mountain is that mountain to die on. Not every differing opinion is that drastic and awful. Yes I think your candidate is awful, and you think my candidate is awful, but that does not automatically mean that we can no longer speak. On the contrary it means we should talk. We should be discussing the issues at hand like rational adults and try to come to a consensus, or at least civilly agree to disagree. Who knows, maybe I will make you see a little more what I see, and in turn I will see a little more of what you see.
We often also have to remember that people base their opinions off of their own experiences. It is because of this that our opinions vary so much. I grew up a spoiled white girl living in the city in a loving home. I will never know what it is like to be anything else. I can hear all of the anecdotal evidence in the world, and feel empathy, but I am never going to know. My only way to see that there is something else to see is to talk and, more importantly, to listen.
We have to stop waiting to speak and instead listen to what is being said. Do not ignore the other person and form an argument for why you are right. Instead listen to what they are saying and see if any of it resonates with you. Respond to their words, do not just recite pre planned rhetoric. This is how true discussions work. Also let the person speak their mind without interruption. There will be time for you to give your rebuttal in the end. What they have to say is as valid as what you have to say.
You do not have to agree with anyone. You do not have to change your mind. You do not have to change their mind. By refusing to allow someone to speak, and refusing to allow them to believe as they want, you are being restrictive and oppressive.
People can live their lives they want and you can hate it, but you can not stop it.
People can say things you think are wretched, but you can not stop it.
When we start saying that people can not do, or be, or say, or think, then we have become the problem. We do this and polarize ourselves more and more. We make ourselves more intolerant of things that are not "normal". We make ourselves more and more angry.
And then we break.
And then horrible things happen.
And then history books grow thick with tragedy.
I challenge you my minions to sit down with someone who you disagree with and talk to them. Talk to them about that topic that makes you uncomfortable. Talk to them and truly listen to them. You don't have to like what they say. You don't have to agree with what they say. You don't have to change your mind about anything. You just have to listen to them. Ask them questions, try and understand them, try and see what it is they are seeing. Then try and let them understand what you see, and why you don't understand what they see, and what you are seeing.
Maybe if we did this more instead of just assuming something, instead of making sweeping generalizations, and painting broad pictures of the 'enemy' we can step back from that precipice of hate that we seem to be teetering on. Maybe we can have the next page in the book be the start of a better chapter in our world.
You have to make the change. You have to start. You are responsible for you, so be responsible.
And if you disagree with what I have said here, I am happy for that. I respect your right to do so and I would love to hear why.
I am ready to listen, are you?