Make Room for Disagreement

All my heroes are problematic.

All my enemies are loved by someone.

I struggle to know who the villains are. Activism, at least the successful kind, almost always requires a villain be named. We define ourselves and we label the opposite “evil”. I see this in politics on the right and left. I see this in conversations about poverty, disability, race, education, gender, status, location, and diet. If we come to a conclusion about what is “right”, we no longer feel a need to listen to anyone with a different opinion.

I don’t share (as in literally click the share button) a lot of other people’s disgruntled posts, blogs, or commentary. The usual reason is that, even if I agree with it 90%, there  are moments when the opposing view is misrepresented. If we can make the opposing view seem really, really, really terrible then we have an easier time convincing people to agree with us. And doing this is not a calculated plot by manipulative people. This exaggeration of the “bad” guy is internal. We do it subconsciously because it simplifies right vs. wrong. We feel comfortable knowing we’re on the right side, so the broader the line between the two, the easier we will rest in self-righteousness.

You know, sometimes people really want to uplift the downtrodden. But they also want to throw some punches just to be punching. It’s easier to lash out when you have dehumanized an entire swath of people you’ve never met based on a single label.

Vilifying others is effective, both mentally and socially. But it is a foolish thing to rely on. It prevents us from reaching consensus, growing individually and collectively, and it discourages others from critical thinking.

So many people are afraid of “seeming” a way if they engage in discussion. We are afraid to point out one flawed part of an otherwise perfect idea for fear we will be labeled the “bad guy” or one of “them”. We put people on pedestals because their outrage is so passionate and persistent. We become convinced that, yes, finally this issue has no gray area. It is clearly black and white, good guy vs. bad guy, pick a side and block the other, it’s time for war. Then no one is allowed to question these people on high. Discussion dies. It becomes an arena where we shout “amen” and “yes” and if someone in the room dares to demonstrate doubt about *anything*, we punch them in the face.

Oh, you think I’m exaggerating just because you wouldn’t hurt a fly. But, people in groups do things people as individuals would not. People representing social righteousness and/or religion behave a little differently than people representing only themselves. The internet has made it very easy for us to form these groups, and the formula for becoming a prominent spokesperson in them is pretty simple for anyone to follow.

I engage in this behavior sometimes. I am flawed. I see that I have done the exact thing I am complaining about now. But every day I do it less. I realize that the people that have been in my life longest have not been there because they agree with my activism. They have been there all this time because despite our very different opinions, we see the good in each other. We see the other person’s heart first and filter their ideas through what we know of their heart. I want to surround myself with more people like this, and give less credibility by default to people only wanting an echo. Maybe that means my circle gets smaller. I’m okay with that. Actually, it may be exactly what I need.

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