Civil discourse. Sometimes it seems like an impossibility, a utopia, a thing of the past. In the age of instant publication of everyone’s thoughts to a potentially huge audience, and with no way of taking back a rash, thoughtless statement once it’s escaped one’s texting or posting fingers, it feels as if cyberspace (and, thence, real space) is clogged with outrage, name-calling, and sometimes straight-up mean-spiritedness, all because we are drawing battle lines over a variety of hot topics. New blog posts that go viral, legislation, personal experiences all get hashed out in great detail as toes and fingers dig into the lines in the cybersand.
Again, though I don’t write about the really controversial topics on this blog or go into detail about my opinions on some of them, it may be fairly simple to figure out where I stand on certain things. I am religious and conservative. As I said in my previous post, about body image and “feminism,” sometimes people’s conclusions about what I think might be different from what I actually believe, but in general, they’re probably going to be mostly right. But the reasoning and the emotion and compassion and time I’ve taken to draw my conclusions are almost NEVER going to be as cut-and-dried and automatic as some might assume, which is a point I’d really like to make clear.
The past years, for instance, have brought same-sex marriage to center stage in the national consciousness and in legislation. And it’s been interesting to have discussions with friends (and acquaintances and their acquaintances) about the various issues that tie into that hot topic. Various states are still in the process of approving or banning it (or having their voters’ decisions overturned); attorneys general are weighing in; states are introducing legislation that deals with related issues to gay marriage (Arizona’s current potential law trying to safeguard business owners who would like to exercise religious opinions on it is a biggie this week). As all these legalities make their way through the various systems to some kind of eventual, kind-of-final resolution, many still have mighty strong opinions about all the ins and outs.
Again, I won’t talk about all my opinions on this topic. There are some truly good sites out there that do better than I could for all the sides. What’s interesting to me, however, is HOW we present these ideas. And in many ways, it is NOT a pretty picture. It’s ugly out there, folks. Discourse is so far from civil it’s not even on the spectrum sometimes (is it DATcourse? ha ha).
But when I’ve talked about this topic, for example, with friends I adore and respect and think the world of in cyberspace, mostly Facebook, I’ve found that though the discussion can still get a touch heated, it’s still pretty respectful. And so far I’m talking about people who are all of my same religious persuasion and similar backgrounds, I’d roundly say. And we still have very different and strong opinions about all the issues-within-the-issue. Here’s what I love, though: that it stays respectful and devoid of name-calling or (mostly) generalizing. I’ve not changed my mind, and I am sure they haven’t, but we’ve had some interesting discussions and even insights and ideas that were generated. And we walk away still liking and loving each other.
I think about this when I drive sometimes: when there’s a driver who’s been doing something that’s “making me crazy” on the road, it’s once or twice been someone I ended up knowing! And when I know who it is, then my frustration just dribbles right out of me. I think twice now when someone’s really going slowly or ___(fill in the blank) because I wonder, “Could it be someone I really like?”
I wonder if it’s possible to do this more in public discourse. Could we imagine that the people we’re “talking” with in cyberspace, for example, are decent human beings, ones we might be friends with in real life? Can we treat them with the respect due to that kind of relationship? This isn’t a new idea: it’s all about not de-humanizing people. (In extreme situations, severe de-humanization — or objectification, if you will — has led to slavery and genocide.)
I’ve been taught from these discussions and hope I’ve said something that might give someone else “on the other side” a new insight or understanding. And if we were all together in person, I imagine us smiling, shaking hands, and heading out for a nice dinner together, laughing, joking, and just enjoying time together as friends. Now THAT’s pretty radical.