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A Discourse on Discourse

To say that our nation is deeply divided would be akin to saying the Plague was a little bug or that World War II was a tiny skirmish. From every corner of our country, people are taking to Facebook, Twitter, and online communities to share their expertise on everything, from politics and religion, to social and economic issues. That, in and of itself, is a fine thing. The issue is that most of these folks are coming from the perspective that their opinion is the only valid one, and if you disagree then you are an idiot.

This is what happens when the whole world gets a voice.

But honestly, I don’t think much has really changed. If 1860 America had Twitter, I’m sure the political tension would be just as vicious (I recall smear campaigns against Abe Lincoln criticizing him because he looked like a monkey; I can envision the memes now…). We haven’t really changed all that much: we are a society of people with opinions. In days gone by, our upbringing and our personality played a role in how vocal we would become about those opinions. These days, however, the internet has afforded an anonymous platform from which every self-anointed armchair expert can shout their views for all to hear..

Sadly, that simple anonymity has also allowed for the gloves to come off. Instead of civil discourse, angry rage and vicious attacks seem to be the order of the day. While there’s technically nothing wrong with this, I can’t help but feel that a truly decent society would take umbrage with making every political and religious argument a necessary bout of “I’m right, you’re stupid.” It is truly reprehensible, to see how human beings have decided to treat other human beings, all because they feel their opinion is the only valid opinion. And it’s very easy to find a group of others who share your opinion, isn’t it? When you surround yourself with like-minded people, your conviction in your beliefs grows and you become unable to see any other path except the one to which you passionately subscribe. While this may make you secure in your own beliefs, the lack of challenge and discourse eventually breeds an inability to properly defend your position. Thus, you fall back on other tactics. Attacking grammar. Implying stupidity. Making it far too personal.

If a person only ever goes to church, they’re only going get that point of view. You have to engage with others, to have that point of view challenged. It doesn’t have to be so that someone can change your mind. You grow in your belief and your position when you’re forced to defend it or explain it so that others understand.

But in hiding behind our glowing rectangles and squares, we have all but ruined our ability to have productive discourse. The notion that you don’t discuss politics or religion in polite company is now more a necessity than an exercise in social grace. And that’s a shame, because no matter where we fall on the political spectrum, no matter what religious views we hold, we should always be open to discussion on them. We should always be ready to have our views challenged. Defending one’s beliefs is a rigorous exercise that requires truly understanding WHY you believe what you belief. Why do you support this candidate? Why do you follow this faith?

This is explicitly stated for those of a Christian persuasion. “…always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” (1 Peter 3:15, NKJV). I cite this as an example because I am familiar with it, but I would be surprised if most faiths didn’t express a similar sentiment. It just makes sense, doesn’t it? Why do you believe what you believe? Too many of us don’t have answer. We blindly accept what we’re taught, blindly accept the “news” we watch on TV or read on Facebook. We don’t challenge it, and we don’t challenge ourselves.

Debate is good. Discourse is good. It’s a healthy, necessary component of an intelligent, functional society. The fact that the vast majority of Americans cannot tell you why they follow Christ, why they’re agnostic, why they’re liberal, why they’re conservative, is incredibly disheartening, and even dangerous to our society. Facebook and Twitter have created a country full of “bumper sticker philosophers” – people who perpetuate short buzz words, phrases, or topics that are expressed in oversimplified terms, that appeal only to emotion and not to intellect. Most of these things cannot stand under thoughtful scrutiny. Yet, we allow them to pervade our news feeds every day, never giving them a thought. The idea of a longer discussion, the idea that maybe I could learn something if I listen to the other side, has been replaced with the very simple, primitive mindset that I am right, and they are wrong.

I am guilty of this. I’ve flooded my Facebook feed with enough political memes to sink a spaceship. I’ve chosen to give that up recently, in the hopes of making more thoughtful posts about issues and maybe stimulating some discussion. Granted, there will still be many people who glance at these and shrug. They’re too busy with their own concerns to worry about it. They have their opinions and that’s that. No room or need for change or growth. That is everyone’s choice, of course. But I’d like to use this space to maybe start some conversations. Because I need to feel like this divided country can come back together again. I know there are people on every side of every argument that hold out that hope. We just need to find each other.

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Posted by on February 22, 2014 in Blogging, Current Events, Faith, Writing

 

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Great Expectations

I’ve noticed a growing trend recently.  People – mainly younger people – are starting to realize that the man who now leads our country is notably different from the man they elected.  The lovely rhetoric about change has dissolved, replaced with bickering over health care and rushing to judgment on situations that were handled “stupidly.”

Yes, my young friends, the honeymoon is over.  There are hard lessons to be learned now, the first (and most important) of which is this: no candidate for any public office can ever deliver on every promise.  Why?  Because our government is designed so that no one person can push their agenda through unilaterally.  And inevitably, someone in that government is going to have a different opinion that the candidate. 

Don’t misunderstand – I am not commenting on Obama’s intentions or performance as our president.  It’s far too early in his administration to really judge how effective he has been.  While I have a strong moral opposition to some of his policies, I completely support him as our leader, and I want him to succeed.  If he succeeds at his job, then we succeed as a country.

The issue is that most of us were extremely jaded by Bush; and with good cause.  We went from having the entire planet standing with us in a display of unparalleled global unity… to alienating anyone and everyone that ever gave a damn about America.  In the aftermath of the many problems that plagued our country, we were willing to listen to anyone that promised a different path.  We were a country that had lost our way, and Obama promised us to put us back on track.  I think many voters, especially first-time voters (Obama was very popular with the college crowd) bought their man lock, stock, and barrel.  Having attended a university at that point in time, I can tell you that many students were completely taken with him and expected him to deliver 100% on all of his promises.

It has been said the voter turnout for that presidential race was one of the highest ever, and for that I am thrilled.  Obama got a lot of people who were disinterested in the political process out to have their voices heard.  The problem is, I don’t think they fully understood the process they were becoming involved with.  I don’t think they understood the degree to which that process would, for better or worse, change their candidate and alter his ability to make good on his word.

Those of us who have been through elections before saw it coming.  We knew that, as beautifully crafted as Obama’s speeches were, and as pure and good as his intentions were, there was no way he’d be able to deliver everything.  We accept that as being part of the process.  All we can do is cast our ballots for the man who best represents our values and hope that he doesn’t completely bail on us (or choose to make a statement by not voting, though I don’t know that I agree with this).  I hope that all those who turned out to vote this time can understand that and will not be discouraged from participating in future elections.

It’s really not just a political lesson; it’s a life lesson.  No matter how wonderful we make something out to be, in the end there will be disappointment.  Expectations are powerful things that are nigh-impossible to fulfill… especially when it’s something as major as the kind of change Obama promised.  That platform carried him to the White House amidst a tremendous uproar of patriotism, but I suspect all the rhetoric – well-meaning though it was – is going to end up biting him in the ass.  The more you let someone down, the more they are likely to remember it – especially in the ballot box in three more years.

 
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Posted by on December 20, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

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