Sunday, January 26, 2014

Why can’t we just all get along?

    There’s a natural desire to get along with everybody. To not have constant fights going on around you. In today's diverse and connected public sphere, I that natural desire can lead to a wish that there weren’t so many things that some people passionately believe in. A wish that people wouldn’t be so certain of things.
    I like Marc Cortez’s blog post I saw this week about one problem with this. That there are practical reasons for taking a stand on some issues. Our ideas are the foundations of our actions so we have to have decided opinions to act consistently.
    But I also think that being passionate about things is part of being human. You’re not really enjoying the benefits of knowing different people if you’re not ready to confront and deal with their passionately held convictions. Even when they are very different or even directly opposed to your own passionately held convictions. Being ready look at their arguments, dig down to their roots and really understanding what the differences are is part of really seeing and knowing others.

There was a verse in my Bible study lesson this morning I really liked:

John 18:23 (NLT)
Jesus replied, “If I said anything wrong, you must prove it. But if I’m speaking the truth, why are you beating me?”

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Enjoying being Offended - Part 2

We were driving along when my mom apologized to me. She was apologizing for having sounded disrespectful of my religious beliefs in a conversation that had occurred over the holidays. I couldn't think what comment she was referring to. (Having thought about it now there was maybe one comment she made that was a little sarcastic, but that was nothing to the full debating tool box that my sister and I were using. It by far the best time I had that holiday visit.)
She say she didn't want me to think that she disapproved of my spiritual path. I say I had not been offended. We had mutually incompatible ideas about proper spiritual paths and as obviously she would disagree with my choices, and I was perfectly fine with her expressing that.
She said no, she really thought how I was pursuing my spiritual life was fine. I didn't think that could be the case and we want back and forth on that with restocking to her thesis that she really thought my religious pursuits were fine and good as long as I was happy with them.
We went on and had a fun meal at The Counter where I had fun ordering just what I wanted and nothing else. (The Counter specializes in letting you build your own burger rather than offering a limited number of pre chooses combination that I always need them to hold something on.)
But the apology stayed with me. Before the apology I had not been offended at all. But now I found I was. I did feel hurt and disrespected that my ideas were not being taken seriously and that my mother didn’t care whether I was basing my life on the truth or a lie.
Later a practical matter came up where my opinion on the subject was related to the consequences of my religious beliefs. My mother was quite dismissive about my opinion. And I found myself quite hurt by it, not because of the dismissing of my opinion but because it showed how thoroughly she dismissed my beliefs as real beliefs that would have real consequences in all other areas of my life.
This is part of engaging with people and really relating to them on a deep level. being ready for their beliefs to be so different that you are hurt by how they see you, and being ready to deal with that.


Saturday, January 4, 2014

Enjoying being Offended - part 1

I remember my grandmother as a warm comforting presence on those summer vacations. My grandfather and her would come out to California in the summer in their RV. We would do fun things and everyone would get along and then she would make hot chocolate for everyone.
photo by Herrick
I think I must have been a difficult grandchild for her, with inexplicable and occasionally unpredictable dislikes. But I liked how she would like around that. Once she had given up on me going along with something or what would work for me to do, the matter would be dropped and I could just move on from there. It would be like the disagreement had never happened. She was really good at getting us the act like we were in natural harmony with each h other.
She died of breast cancer when I was still a teenager. At a gathering connected with her funeral I was talking to her namesake and in the course of the conversation saying that my grandmother hadn't been perfect. When I was asked how, I pointed out that, while she would create an appearance of agreement and perfect sympathy, it wasn't a reality.
It was based on pretending. If someone said something you disagreed with you couldn't contradict them directly. You had to phrases it as a nuanced agreement so everyone could act like there wasn't a conflict. You could be scolded for being impolite but it was always the form of your expression and not the content of your ideas that was criticized.
Grandma would firmly squelch any topics of real disagreement except ones that were so distant and abstract that no one president was really affected by them. It made for a very comfortable, restful atmosphere. But it was possible because our little family mostly agreed on our general perspective. We were willing to conform our views to a conventional average without really debating anything.
It was a comfortable, safe place for me to retreat. But out want we're I really formed my mind and sharper my ideas. It was a place for recovery rather than growth. But from the outside it presented such a feeling of safety and acceptance that it might.
I think one of the things wrong with public debate today is that there’s an illusion that the whole of life can be like that for everyone. I hear calls for protests over something a public figure said in some magazine. I here whole groups given the identity of “haters” because their tastes or ideas don’t match that of some other group. I see people genuinely upset and hurt because they read on the internet where someone discussed something they identify with in a way my Grandmother would not have allowed one of her grandchildren to be discussed in her living room.
But here’s the thing, my grandmother could only achieve that because she was working with a very small group of people already very alike in tastes and culture. Moreover  the atmosphere was limited in time and space. We could go other places to discuss how we really felt and develop our own opinions.
Expecting to encounter a sampling of people from the real world and not find some dislike your art, disapprove of your choices, or don’t respect the identity you’ve cultivated is setting yourself up for heartbreak. Even just America is too big to be one homogenized culture where there’s a list of values you can endorse and expect everyone to nod their heads in approval. People are really going to disagree with you even on things that are emotionally important to you or that are part of how you identify your place in the world.
The 50s sitcom family where everyone could always be sure that if there would be an apology by the end of an episode was mostly an illusion. And to the extent it wasn’t it is impossible to expand to embrace a group of diverse backgrounds and world view. Instead we need to embrace that fact that we will offend other people and that other people will offend us.