Friendly Discussion…Constructive Engagement

One of the ways we learn is through interpersonal communication. One person asks a question, and another with information answers, perhaps only partially. In pooling the knowledge that we have, we all gain knowledge and insight. Proverbs 15:22-23 suggests, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed. A person finds joy in giving an apt reply—and how good is a timely word!” Sometimes the “apt reply” is a hard truth, upsetting our comfortable assumptions or preferred view of the world’ but; if it is true, contains more accurate data, is supported by credible witnesses, or is more logical, then a thoughtful person must consider it—consider it, not necessarily adopt it! As we learn and grow, we will come to a greater degree of certainty, one where we will not easily give up what we have determined to be true, reasonable, and wise. At this point, such a person will not be led to a new position easily, if at all, and certainly not in ways that have become rather common.

Does anyone enjoy arrogant condescension and presumptive superiority? I don’t! I find it unpleasant when “my side” does it and repugnant when it’s used against me. If you intend to talk to me that way, don’t bother! First of all, my intelligence is rather high according to tests I took, a long time ago. You aren’t “smarter” just because you hold a “better opinion” than I do. Furthermore, I figured out, nearly as long ago, that intelligence isn’t the same thing as either wisdom or common sense. I’ve never felt the need to say or think, “I’m right cause I’m smarter than you,” not even when it was a case simple for me to prove, like the answer to a math problem, a remembered date, or a verifiable quotation. I suspect that crude and overbearing attacks on others’ thoughts and opinions are nothing but a posture intended to “shout down” an opposing view rather than interact with it. People who do that are either showing off for their “team” or hiding their own doubts about their position, a typical ploy to avoid discussion.

Now, in the process of genuine interpersonal communication, I think a few rules based on simple courtesy are fair. I offer several, not necessarily in order of importance:

  1. Please, don’t call me your friend, even on Facebook, then speak to me disrespectfully! Spare me your snide and snarky comments. Don’t talk to me like I’m an idiot. Don’t talk down to me. This is stuff friends just don’t do. I am under no illusions about Facebook “friends,but I expect a friendly manner regardless.

  2. Save your “slam dunks” for the basketball court! Actual communication is a process of give and take, not you give and I take, but really listening and responding to what we hear or read. I try to do that before I comment, and I expect, from simple courtesy, that you will do the same.

  3. Don’t jump to conclusions, finish my sentences, read my mind, or make assumptions. You cannot read my mind, you do not know what I’m thinking, and I expect to tell you without your help (unless I ask for it, like when I can’t remember a name). You don’t know where I’m going with an argument until I make it, and even if you happen to guess correctly, let me tell you anyway. I may actually have something new or different to share than you expected. Even worse, don’t pigeon-hole me and assume you know everything I think about everything cause you’ve tagged me with some label. I’ve hated that kind of thinking for most of my life. Labels have their place, but I will pick my own—thank you very much—and when I do, I will explain what I mean; so pay attention! Whether I refer to my faith or my political thoughts, I rarely am a perfect fit for any label, and I’ll bet you aren’t either.

  4. Open-mindedness is a myth. It’s about as true as a relativist’s use of the the word “tolerance.” I suspect it is usually nothing more than a subtle form of arrogance, accusing another of having a closed mind or being intolerant, while failing to see one’s own narrowness. People who argue against absolutes often have the least flexibility about what they regard as right or wrong. To have no sense of anything being wrong is sociopathic, and philosophy doesn’t lead one there. I always find those who teach moral relativism almost amusing in their presumption of moral superiority, so intolerant in their “tolerance,” with minds so closed to any counter-argument. If that’s you, spare me! Furthermore, you won’t open a closed mind by force, only perhaps by kind, gentle persuasion.

  5. Don’t tell me to read some book that proves your point if you aren’t willing to read mine. I read just about all the time—books, articles, and a good bit of fiction for relaxation—but I do read. If you have a degree, I probably can’t match you in your field, but then I have a couple of degrees of my own. Let’s be honest; many authors selectively deal with issues, both your favorites and mine. The truly objective author, writing without a guiding bias, is rare. Sorting through the resulting morass is nearly impossible, even for someone who reads as much as I do. Columbus was a hero? Columbus was a scoundrel? American Indians were primitives who gave way to a superior culture, or Native Americans were wrongly overwhelmed by European invaders? FDR was a savior; FDR set us on a wrong path? A lone assassin killed JFK; no, it was a conspiracy involving the CIA (or whomever your favorite villain might be)?  Only a truly amazing book will settle a strong difference of opinion, and most do not!

“Winners write the history” (or re-write it) is as true in American politics as in world history, filled with considerable bias. Christians often emphasize the positive influence of their history; opponents focus on the bad stuff. Sadly, it’s not even as easy as “finding someplace in the middle,” which is what many try to do. Now that many have tossed “truth” into the trash heap of history, few even seem to care to look for the truth. However, I do!

I spend a good bit of time verifying things, though I know the even the Internet isn’t 100% reliable. Casual research only helps establish facts, verifies witnesses, locates documentation, or discovers experimental proof. Beyond that are the host of things about which people don’t have verifiable data but merely personal opinion, whether they’re honest about it or not! Given my custom, I don’t have time to read everything, and unless it is ground-breaking, your suggestion probably wouldn’t change my mind anyway.

  1. If you didn’t already figure this out, please don’t comment on my post without reading it! Don’t ignore what my post actually says to go off on some tangent of your own. As with my second point, interactive communication, back and forth, give and take is what works. If I put up something that says (as I did recently) Obama trashes Romney’s past to avoid dealing with his own, don’t just start telling me about Romney’s “evil” history; that just tells me you’re a blind follower of Obama. I didn’t say Romney had no history or that he had nothing to hide; I don’t actually believe the first or know anything about the second. My intent was to point out that Obama also has a history and that he surely seems like he has something to hide. Are you such an “Obama Zombie” that you cannot honestly face that truth…for it is indeed a truth!?

I was reading a post by Ann Coulter, a while back, about the death of one of her parents, I think, and I was appalled at the kind of both irrelevant and nasty things people posted as comments. If you don’t like what a person thinks and writes, that is no justification for cruelty. I find that those who most loudly demand that Christians or conservatives not be “judgmental” are often the most repulsively judgmental themselves, which leads to my next point.

  1. Spare me your ad hominem attacks! We live in an increasingly hostile, adversarial age. Some very intentionally use aggressive tactics and angry rhetoric to cower people. Name-calling is common. Say you do not agree with President Obama’s policies, people will call you a racist. Really? Support the Second Amendment, and you’ll be pronounced guilty of the latest gun crime. You can’t be pro-life if you still favor capital punishment, nor can you point out the inconsistency in those who assert animal rights but favor abortion. The list of issues where attacking the person instead of discussion the substance of a disagreement grows longer every day. I hate knowing I can’t say openly  what I think or feel without people immediately judging my character.

Constructive engagement, civil discourse, negotiation, statesmanship, diplomacy, and tact—all elements of effective interpersonal dialog—are essential for everything from personal relationships and cohesive families to strong, safe communities. Without, we have wars, various kinds of violence, disintegrating communities, and broken relationships. Even as technology offers greater access to people, we have become less meaningfully connected to them. Just as shorter and shorter sound bites do not truly convey news or opinion, so twitter and texts confuse more frequent to nearly constant contact with depth of relationship. Add the ease of making abrupt, rude, or nasty comments, and it not hard to see the correlation with a growing hostility among people, especially between opposing views. Worse, this situation leads to disrespect and disrespect to dehumanization, a step that makes verbally abusing, attacking, assaulting, or even killing an adversary so much easier. I hold professional politicians and ideologues, media personalities, and entertainers particularly responsible for this coarsening of our culture and the resultant animosity, but if we ordinary folks don’t resist it, we become part of the problem.

Do your really believe the positions you hold? Are you genuinely concerned about making the world, or at least your part of it, a better place? Is your desire to see others come to share your “enlightened” point of view? You won’t accomplish that with dismissive, abrasive reactions to those with opposing opinions; you will likely just harden those contrary views in reaction to your manner and method. It’s called backlash, and it is real.

A while back, a young Latino was killed by the police. He had created a situation to which officers were called, and then he came at them with a gun, a life-like toy. He died from multiple gunshots. I suspect it was intentional, since clearly he knew it wasn’t a real gun and that the officers would not know that before it was too late. The Hispanic community wanted the officers involved to be punished, although they had merely followed established procedure, confirmed by multiple investigations, inside and outside the department. Many in our neighborhood stood with the police because they had helped us clean out the drug houses and prostitutes and made things safer. I was asked to write a letter of support, which I most happily did, but then found I was also designated to read it at the same city council meeting where many Hispanics were on hand to protest against them.

I was nervous as I rarely have been since I was young. They had held the floor for quite some time, and many were still on hand, when my turn to read came. I think it was a pretty good letter; I wasn’t trying to bad mouth those with a different opinion, but merely trying to make our support clear. Among my thoughts was a warning that claims of racial bias, clearly not indicated by any available facts, would do more harm than good, not just to the general public whom the police are trained to protect, and not just to the police themselves who have a right to self-protection, but to the very people who were protesting because, under such criticism and opposition, what officer could help but react more slowly when that particular group might be involved? In other words, why should a cop risk his life to protect those who condemn them for doing so?  (Just to be clear, I am NOT defending certain recent incidents of trigger happy cops who have killed harmless people and pets)

When people use “force,” whether it is words, demonstrations, personal intimidation, or worse, they help create the backlash that may defeat their goals. That was the genius of men like Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King, who so strongly stood for and practiced non-violence. Rational people, as I try to be and hope I am, will consider the ideas of such people but react, perhaps quite strongly, to any person who attempts to force their views on them.

Winning people over is not the same as defeating them. Without that recognition, even political “wins” will lose in the end. If the hearts of the people have not truly been won over—discounting the few truly incorrigible diehards— then political gains will be reversed, sooner or later, even if it takes time or a virtual revolution. Political coups, terrorist take-overs, or domination by a minority will not change the minds and hearts of people. Even manipulation, propaganda, and mind-washing methods can, and often are, overcome.

So, here’s the deal. Hold whatever opinions you want; even consider them gospel truth. That is your right. I recommend using gentle persuasion over harsh rhetoric as more likely to win others to you point of view; I also recommend you consider the thoughts and arguments others offer in response. You might discover your position is not as definitive as you were led to believe. Even if your opinion remains the same, you willingness to listen and respond thoughtfully and kindly is more likely to gain a favorable hearing. In this, I’m not only addressing the aggressive Left but also those who are nearer my own point of view—conservatives, libertarians, and especially Christians!

You don’t have to do as I suggest. You will do as you choose, I’m sure. But…if you insist on acting like a jerk, don’t do it to me, not in person, not on my blogs, and not on my Facebook page! If you must be obnoxious and disrespectful, do it somewhere else—though I’d not wish your coarseness on others—and, please, don’t call yourself my friend!


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