Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Polarized

Last night I was up late talking with my older daughter. We were talking about all kinds of things that are on her almost-16 mind these days and one particular thing struck me - one thing that is sad and has me pretty disappointed with many adults these days.

We were talking about college choices and the thing that she said was this: You know, I don't want to go to school where there are going to be a bunch of partiers. I kind of want to go to a Christian school, but I really don't want to be around people who are so politically opinionated. My professor [Maia is currently enrolled in a PSEO course, which is a college course paid for by the state that high-school students can take for concurrent high-school and college credit] is SO opinion-based and I'm just sick of it!

And guess what? She's not the only teen who feels this way. My nephew, a senior in high school, says that he won't talk with his friends about the upcoming election, because he says that so many of his friends have such strong opinions - and not necessarily their own, but those of their parents - that he doesn't even want to get into it with them.

Sadly, this really is everywhere. I just skip over all the Facebook posts that have smarmy remarks. The internet is the last place to have a true discussion with anyone. The safety of anonymity leads to words that many wouldn't dare speak in face-to-face discussions. Acutally, I wonder even about that word, "discussion," because, honestly, I hardly think we're having any of those.

What we have are ZINGERS.

Yes, the smart remark that is so clever and is something that everyone can "like" and "share" and feel smug about because they got the last clever word... except that it never is the last word and someone else will come up with a new retort in about... 12 seconds... and what we're left with is nothing of substance, but instead a lot of insulted, vengance-seeking (whether in word or deed or zinger) people.
Little more than parody is built on clever insults. Certainly solving serious dilemmas that affect millions of people does not call for a punchline.

A couple of months ago, I was listening to a panel of seasoned journalists talk about the state of politics and news these days. One of the questions regarded the extreme polarization that our country has not been able to pull itself out of for the last 12 years or so. Where did this come from? It wasn't always this way, was it? An excellent answer that struck a chord with me was this:

With the rise of both the internet and opinon-based cable programs that present themselves as "news," citizens now get their information filtered through a lens that is skewed toward a perspective they already hold. Consider this for a moment. Does it not leave you feeling a little bit creepy and a little bit brainwashed? Don't you think that we ought to be challenged in our thinking just a bit and perhaps even find ourselves argreeing, from time to time with the other guy? I don't agree with my husband or my children or other family members on everything. Why should I feel this way about a political party - right or left? Because while it is quite comfortable to sit in a room and discuss topics of all kinds with people who agree with you on everything, it does not make the opinion in that room right or true.

I'm not suggesting that there aren't things that are not right or true. I have my own beliefs and values that are dear and important to me. But if my belief is different from yours, can we agree that I will not likely bring you around to my way of thinking by talking louder than or over you or by insulting you and/or what you believe in?

And so, is this how we want to teach our children to speak to one another? Is this how we instruct them in discourse toward resolving the issues of our day... of their days in the future? By teaching them to talk over someone hopefully by saying something clever enough to have printed on a tacky
 t-shirt?

I am especially making a plea to my Christian brothers and sisters out there. Stop participating in the volley of insults. Yes, Jesus disagreed with people, but instead of  calling someone an idiot or stupid or shaming or humiliating them by trying to make them look foolish with a cleverly-crafted one-liner, He taught them by using parables and invited them to think about themselves in the mirror of the story, thereby letting the Holy Spirit convict the heart and inviting them to change.

For the sake of each other, the generations to follow,our nation and Your Son, give us grace, Father, in these last days before our election and in the future,to practice your instructions in James 1:19, "My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry..." Amen.
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