When I was in college, I was firmly convinced that the Dave Matthews Band was the greatest musical act of all-time and that Jack Kerouac’s On the Road should be canonized as the Great American Novel. Many of my friends agreed with me and we would spend countless nights into early mornings defending our position and expressing our incredulity that anyone would dare think otherwise. We’d whip ourselves up into passionate frenzies and then go out into classrooms where we were shocked and horrified to find that not everyone thought that way! (I’ve eased off my Kerouac claims, but I’ll still put up a lukewarm battle for pre-Everyday Dave Matthews Band.)
I was thinking about this the other day as I was scrolling through tweet after tweet of conservatives who are so passionate about defunding the Affordable Care Act. Just yesterday, Senator Ted Cruz ended his 21 hour filibuster which originated in an attempt to defund or at least delay the implementation of the law.
As I watch conservatives whip themselves in a frenzy over healthcare and liberals do the same over the [deplorable] cuts in SNAP benefits, I’m reminded of my friends and I sitting in a coffeehouse on campus late into the night debating the nuances of Kerouac and Dave Matthews. And here’s the thing that keeps coming up.
It is pointless to even attempt meaningful conversation when we remain staunchly opposed to what people who may think differently are saying.
This is true no matter what side of any debate we’re on. If our only conversation partners are people who agree with everything we say, then we become convinced that everyone thinks like that. They don’t. It’s why Karl Rove had that embarrassing election night meltdown over at Fox News. Everyone he was talking to thought that Obama would lose. So he refused to accept anything else.
But it’s not just with politics that this is the case. This happens all too often in the church as well. Within world religions or Christian denominations, we spend so much time talking to ourselves — or to people who think like we do — that we can become disconnected from the broader public conversation.
In these big conversations about things that impact public life, we need to make space for all people to express themselves and their opinions, and then wrestle through these issues together. Otherwise we become so entrenched on “our” side — which is almost always synonymous with the “good” side — that we not only lose touch with the broader conversation, but we lose touch with our neighbors, friends, and those in our community who may think differently.
I’ll be the first to tell you that I don’t have this figured out. I’m just as guilty of this as anyone. My main sources of news are the Huffington Post and Jon Stewart. I need to remember this just as much as everyone else.
But in light of the big conversations that are happening in our culture right now — healthcare, government shutdowns, military intervention in Syria, how we fight poverty and hunger — we need to make space for everyone in these conversations.
Otherwise we risk whipping ourselves into a frenzy only to be disappointed by, and ultimately alienated from, the people in our lives who think differently than we do.
Instead of only talking to people who agree with us, or demonizing those who think differently, we need to turn our attention to positive, constructive work in our world. It no longer works to sit by and simply tear things down. It’s time build bridges across our diverse ideologies and opinions, so that ultimately we can spend our lives building a better world.
And not simply talking to ourselves.