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.