I have been mulling this idea over for the last month or more. Let me tell you what I am thinking and invite your thoughts. I am looking for a place to have passionate conversation that is civil and respects all reasonable attempts to create understanding. I have been appalled and disturbed by the level of anger, dismissal and hatred expressed in the public conversation. In my personal experience either my friends are oblivious to any opinions other than their own or they are afraid to say anything at all, not knowing who will be offended and how.
I don’t believe that ugly rancor is the state of the vast majority of people here in America or the rest of the world. It is not my experience with my neighbors, my co-workers and the overwhelming majority of my friends and family. The extremists on both sides are dominating the news and social media feeds as the quiet middle watches. If you have been like me you may have thought there is no sense in even trying to engage in that melee, but we must. It is time for the middle voice to begin a relentless, quiet, steady roar. I am going to suggest resisting all labels but for now “liberal” or “conservative,” “left” or “right,” “urban” or “rural,” “Muslim” or “Christian,” or any other community of faith, let your voices be heard and stop letting the radical fringes paint the picture of life.
Before sharing my proposal, I am strongly considering abandoning main stream social media, in particular those driven by interest algorithms. A primary reason for the algorithms is to target advertising stimulating our already robust consumerism. I haven’t decided yet, but what if we create other pathways that don’t play into the immense power of Facebook, Twitter, and the like. Or what if we used them only for newsy connections with real “friends?” I am not sure but I have a thought how that might work and welcome any of yours as well.
- I am a follower of Christ. My faith is filled with admonitions to love and not hate. I propose that all people of faith regularly and consistently draw on their faith documents to advocate for strong conversation that remains open and loving. My faith calls that speaking the truth in love. I urge my Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Native religionist, atheist, and all other faith brothers and sisters to share your similar admonitions. I grieve for my Muslim friends defined by a radical element abusing their faith. I grieve the same for my Christian friends defined in the same way. They are distortions and it is time for the middle voice to begin a relentless, quiet, steady roar.
- I propose making a commitment to principles of conversation that I will adhere to personally and call my friends to the same. I invite you to join me in that commitment. I will start with three but really want to hear your input as well. When Barbara and I were first married we quickly realized that neither of us had been prepared for healthy relationships in the way we needed. Because we are who we are that led to very intense conflict. We were committed to finding health together and had to develop rules for our fighting. Though we broke most of them in the beginning they have now shaped our relationship for nearly 5 decades. That’s a pretty good track record, I think. Some suggestions to get us started:
- Stop the name calling. What is a “fascist” anyway? I am pretty certain that if you asked 10 different people what they mean when they use that label you would get just about as many different definitions. The same can be said for “socialist.” Labels stop conversation because as soon as you label someone you have already pre-determined what you think of them and their input.
- Believe that 99.9% of people are motivated for the common good. This includes the public figures with whom you struggle the most. Even if that opening statement is not true believing it will put you in a place of discovery and searching for understanding rather than drawing a line in the sand forcing you both on one side or the other. Another way of saying this is stop demonizing those with whom you disagree. Rarely is anyone either all good or all bad.
- If your conversation gets heated and emotional disengage. But, disengage with the intention of re-engaging when you have your emotions in check. More than any political extreme I am deeply concerned by the profound alienation trying to invade our social fabric.
If my thoughts strike a chord with you, respond and let me know. What principles of civil discourse would you add. I have some thoughts about how to facilitate an ongoing conversation. If you are a blogger I will happily promote your blog links as long as they are consistent with our agreed upon principles of conversation. I long to hear from all positions across all spectrums; provided we are reaching for understanding and community.
It is time for the middle voice to begin a relentless, quiet, steady roar.
February 7th, 2021 at 5:41 am
Let’s Gooooo! Time to get after this! Love you🤍🤍
February 7th, 2021 at 11:41 am
Well said Bill. I have a lot to say about your challenge and will elaborate at another time. In the mean time know I take your challenge and completely agree?
February 9th, 2021 at 3:02 am
I am open to the conversation and believe you are correct in seeing the majority desirous of a civil conversation that can bring about a greater expression of authentic community.
February 11th, 2021 at 10:38 pm
I have sought to follow similar guidelines in my own social media posts and interactions. I have drawn back from a number of interactions when my emotions get stirred up and become “front and center.” My primary problem is not anger, but deep grief because of the words and stances of family and friends “who should know better.”
I am, however, concerned about “the middle” because in some contexts it implies compromise of convictions. I think that’s not what you mean by “middle voice” but I have to consciously choose not to make that connection. Listening to one another to gain understanding and to seek common ground is a great goal. Doing so I find is as much an “art” as it is a “science,” I find.
February 13th, 2021 at 10:15 pm
Steve, you raise a fair concern about “the middle.” What I mean by that is everyone between the extreme ends of the spectrum. I don’t have any research to back it up but my guess is that 80% – 90% of us are firm in our convictions but genuinely interested to understand why those who disagree with us think the way they do. Yet, it is the crazy guy in the hat with horns or the black garbed looter that become the faces of the “sides.” If we can find a better term I am more than happy to do so. This underscores my concern for any kind of label because it can be defined in so many ways by so many people.
February 17th, 2021 at 1:41 am
So good to hear from you. Have been thinking about you and Barb recently. Vicky and I miss you guys.
I agree with you and would like to join in the conversation. It will certainly help me with my frustration with the issues. More importantly it will help me in my conversations with those who have opposing views.
February 17th, 2021 at 8:09 am
Welcome, Kevin. Let me know of guidelines for conversations that you think would be useful.
February 18th, 2021 at 10:44 pm
Hello Bill – nice to hear from you. Not being sure of the topics you plan to discuss, I will certainly agree that there is ample room for “Passionate Reasoned Discourse” on many subjects. However, I believe there are certain differing positions on many subjects that are mutually exclusive. That doesn’t mean there can be no reasoned discourse, but simply that respectful co-existence may be the best result possible. I’ll stay tuned in – eager to see where this might lead. Dennis
February 19th, 2021 at 7:36 am
Dennis, even complete disagreement can still be respectful and humble. In my view humility is not self-deprecation but honoring the “other” as I honor my self and my own thoughts. Like you, I am staying tuned to see where this is going to go.
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February 21st, 2021 at 2:01 am
How timely! I’m ready to be part of the “relentless, quiet, steady roar” although I think a roar is hardly quiet…. Ha! I could not agree more… we have lost the ability to engage in civil discourse. This is not the America I grew up in. Since when does disagreeing with someone equal hate. What happened to let’s agree to disagree?! Thank you for your for your desire to be part of the solution rather than continue to perpetuate the problem! I don’t know what mechanism would be effective to achieve what you are proposing here but I am all for it!!! Let’s do it!
February 21st, 2021 at 8:24 am
[…] listening anyway. So, what do I mean by an assumption of good will? As I said in an earlier blog (The Roaring Middle) I will be sharing from my faith in Jesus Christ as a Christ follower. That said, I long to hear […]
February 23rd, 2021 at 12:59 am
So well said, Bill. It gets so hard and confusing to have these conversations and really listen to what family and friends are trying to say about what is on their heart. We cut them off, or they cut us off, because their line of thinking is not ours. We need people like you to facilitate taking down these barriers.
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February 23rd, 2021 at 9:45 am
I hear what you are saying and I have also stopped listening to the major media. I have never been on Facebook and my life seems happier. This is also the first time replying to a blog. I guess what really spoke to me about what you said, “stop the name calling.” I may not be saying this to the person directly, but I am saying this to others who agree with my position. Jesus said, pray for those who are your enemies and maybe I need to start more of this. My tendency is to want to throw a rock at them. God help us!
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February 25th, 2021 at 9:00 am
It has been way too long 🙂
I am always open to opportunities for folks to “reason together”.
I will follow with interest,
Susie also says HI!
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February 25th, 2021 at 3:51 pm
Bill! Thanks for stepping out as an example of love and respect. This Canadian is totally on board as I watch and have conversations that are very unsettling. Not because of the topic. But because there is a lack of understanding of how to disagree, how to listen, how to be there for one another. There is no regard for the other. And I am saddened more by this than anything.
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February 25th, 2021 at 9:13 pm
Very good! Our only hope is that folks will try to find the radical middle. However, I did kind of get stuck at the 99% of all people are motivated by the common good statement. Most of my life I have believed that but now it appears that no longer may be the case and that some are actively trying to destroy our country. God help us!
February 26th, 2021 at 8:54 am
Thanks for sharing Bill and thanks for inviting others into this! I agree that in order to best love one another, we must have these conversations in a healthy way. I love the points you made. As Christians, we must recognize who we are called to converse with and listen to one person at a time.
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March 1st, 2021 at 2:56 am
This does strike a cord in my heart and resonates with me.
I believe most things need to be balanced. In the scriptures you will find a delicate “balance” everywhere, there’s a “tension” in the kingdom of God.
It can be confusing at times to be honest because it appears to be that scripture is contradicting itself.
The same thing is found in almost all areas, politics, religion, civil topics, church, city, county, state local government, hoa, business world, marriage, family, all these areas require a “balance” to succeed.
My favorite topic is social science, sociology, and society.
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March 2nd, 2021 at 10:49 am
What a great Blog… I shared it to my facebook page… Always loved your perspective, thanks for sharing… Yes, we are all tired of the extremists… The news is so biased it hurts… Looking forward to reading the comments…
God Bless your & your family, Preacher-Man…
March 2nd, 2021 at 9:11 pm
I love the idea of opening the conversation to all who are willing to be respectful of others. Didn’t we learn as kids; Treat our neighbor as yourself? And “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”? I have always enjoyed conversation with those that believe differently. I like to ask questions and find out their reasons “why” they believe x y z. This can be about a political topic or a preferred place to eat! We all have our story, and many times that story will shape our views and opinions in ways we did not realize.
Just an example; I had a co-worker that hated guns, just hated them. After asking many questions and having many fun conversations, we realized that hate was from experiences with their parents and the situation they were in when younger. The conversation could start by; “I hate guns, and people who have them are stupid,” But after conversations and a growing friendship, we both learned that they did not really hate people with guns; they just had a fear of them based on experiences. In reality, no opinions were changed – but to your point, the words used to explain the viewpoint became more honest, and there was no more implication of others. My co-worker still doesn’t like guns. No big deal. That was not the point. A friendship was created, and experiences of our pasts were shared. I never set out to change their mind and vice-versa. But instead, to understand where they were coming from. It was a culmination of many conversations and a lot of joking with each other, but in the end, we understand why we believe different things. No name-calling. No insults. Mixed in a few silly jokes towards each other, and a friendship was built. As it turns out, we really can be friends with people that think differently!
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March 5th, 2021 at 2:24 am
Bill, thanks for this challenge and I accept! We are working here in California to provide forums for just such things. It is not easy as people on both sides have lost their minds – I say that respectfully! But yes, I am interested in seeing where this will go and will do my part to bring civil dialogue to difficult issues. Blessing to you and Barb!
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March 8th, 2021 at 11:47 am
Hello Bill. So nice to hear from you. Hope all is well with you & Barbara. Yes, it’s been an unusual year in the teaching field. My life has taken a turn. There was a fire in my apartment building in august 2020 (everyone got out.) a week before school was to start. I took a leave of absence for the year. Then in January, after 27 years of teaching, I chose to retire from teaching. Instead of putting all my energy into figuring out how to meet the needs of the kids, I have returned to where I grew up & have moved in with my mom in the large house that my mom & dad built 60 years ago. We’re enjoying each other’s company. She has a lot of patience. And I get to decide what I’d like to pursue next, with a retirement pension coming soon.
Moving forward to the issue at hand. Thank you for inviting me into the conversation. I’m so appreciative to have a place where we can have a civil conversation without degrading others. I look forward to a space like this. Let’s give it a shot.
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March 9th, 2021 at 9:40 am
Well Dad you know I am on board. I would really like to hear other points of view that may differ from mine . I have been extremely frustrated lately with the anger and hate that is going around .
March 10th, 2021 at 11:30 am
Thank you for the invitation. I look forward to the interchange.
March 12th, 2021 at 7:34 am
Thanks buddy, I am looking forward to what you create here. I’m in.
March 12th, 2021 at 7:40 am
Bill, I wish I could agree that at the core 99% have the same desire although my experience has me believing that there are many motivations for points-of-view. There seems to be a lot of “My way is the right way” and very positioned and closed thinking. And I think that you cannot overlook the actual fallen state of man. Again my perspective is that much of what we see is motivated by greed and control and maybe even worse – Fear!
I don’t have much experience with anyone that is willing to be open minded and suppose that we all have the same motivation of good for our country and the people of it – or the rest of the world population for that matter.
Closed minded and dramatic and stuck on personalities rather than policies.
March 28th, 2021 at 10:23 pm
Sorry that I’m just now sitting to read your blog. Very well said. My friends and I have very similar feelings. I like to understand a problem and get different perspectives before making up my mind. I’d love to be part of a group that can have open discussion without name calling and close-mindedness.
March 30th, 2021 at 7:34 am
Welcome aboard. Invite your friends as well. The more the merrier.
April 1st, 2021 at 9:22 am
There are so many dimensions and possible angles of discussion here that I struggle with where to begin. Yes, I want to join the healthy discussions. Yes, I support your proposed principles. Yes, I believe most social media like Fakebook, Tweeter, InstaDepression, and Gargoyle, are an increasingly negative force in our culture as well as our individual moods. Their algorithmically generated filter bubbles that serve up only their version of what they think you want to see was bad enough. But now it’s increasingly clear they have a heavy hand on the scale trying to tilt the conversation in the direction of their personal worldview. Since they tilt the scale without being honest about what they are doing, I have become very deeply concerned with them. (By the way, I applied a principle you proposed and modified my previous statement to to remove my initial label for social media platforms and replaced it with my personal feeling of very deeply disturbed. But I violated the principle with my derogatory slipups on the names of some of these companies.)
I’ll add my voice to the group that is queasy about the label “middle”. I agree with how you are defining it, but the word definitely conjures up compromise to me. And I also have a reaction that your use of middle doesn’t mean anything yet because you are defining it very broadly. I fully support the proposal that rational, pluralistic Americans need to make their voices heard and reject the radical ideas coming from each end of the 2 vocal “sides” in our culture. But I worry that a lot of people would put me and my beliefs at the radical end of the spectrum. As I think through the discussion here, I think of how the God of Christianity refuses to be labeled in situations where someone is trying to limit him. When Moses asked God who he should tell the Israelites had sent him to them, God answered “I am who I am”. When Joshua encounters God just before a battle and asks whether he is on his side or the bad guy’s side, God answered “nah not either of those options, please rephrase the question”. This approach works for me when someone asks whether I am a Republican or a Democrat because I can confidently answer with “No, there are too many things I dislike about each of those categories”. But this approach is less helpful for the the question I hear you asking here, which I think is how do we rally a broad group of people around a set of rational ideas or principles. Clearly it helps to have a commonly understood label as shorthand for the group of ideas or principles. But I can’t pick a label that I feel good about until we have talked enough to align on a set of ideas and principles.