Dialogue, take two

[DISCLAIMER:] I’m an idiot, and I’m a little embarrassed.

I recently wrote a post on this blog about dialogue in our political system, and how we seem to have lost the knack for it as a culture. I went pretty hard after our current crop of candidates for clownish behavior, and trying to score a rhetorical knockout instead of actually debating the merits of their positions.

The sad irony is that my post was extraordinarily ill-considered, and for a variety of reasons. First off, it crossed the line into being crass – I basically did exactly what I was saying I didn’t like about this election cycle. Second, I didn’t consider my audience – I wouldn’t say things the way I said them to anybody that I know in person. Thirdly, I didn’t consider my platform – 3a is that I’m a pastor, responsible for shepherding people’s spiritual growth; and 3b is that this blog is called “The Pursuit of God,” for goodness’ sake, and my previous post didn’t do anything to pursue God or lead others in that direction.

So, for all of those reasons, I apologize.

I’d like to try again, because I do feel strongly about the importance of being able to hold a civil dialogue. And I do believe that it’s an important skill if you want to pursue God in a deeper way.

“Dialogue” or “debate” is when a group of people get together to respectfully share their ideas and honestly consider the merits of all the ideas presented. Sounds nice, right? You know what it doesn’t sound like…? A modern American political debate.

I had a professor in college who used to use the analogy of a suitcase. He would say at the beginning of each class that, throughout the course of the semester, we would pull out our “suitcase of beliefs,” unpack it, dust everything off and look at it, and decide what we would repack – new ideas from the class, or old ideas we entered with, or some of each.

It’s hugely important to be able to do this critical thinking work for ourselves. If we don’t, then the only thing we have to hold onto is someone else’s opinion. That’s okay when you’re talking about which movie to go see, or a new restaurant to try. But someone else’s opinion shouldn’t be enough in matters that will affect your worldview in a big way.

Additionally, I think it’s pretty important to keep in mind that we could always be wrong about something – a theological belief, a political theory, which baseball team you choose to root for, things like that.

Now, in order for dialogue to happen, not only must there be this exchange of ideas, but it has to be done respectfully. We have all experienced what it is like to be personally attacked – it’s next to impossible to hear the merit of someone’s ideas right after they’ve insulted you. Picture it: “Hey stupid… you’re wrong about politics.” It doesn’t work.

Which is why the current state of our political discourse is so troubling to me. The bulk of our current political discourse is full of personal attacks and “gotcha!” soundbites. It feels less like an exchange of ideas and more like an MMA fight. And even more troubling to me is the fact that we, the American public, seem to be okay with this.

In fact, based on how things have gone over the last couple of election cycles, I’d say we prefer it. We’re more interested in a juicy, “Oh, snap!” soundbite than in a sound argument.

I think this is because (and let’s all be honest with one another here) a thorough, thoughtful discussion of the merits of various political theories is boring. I won’t speak for my political science friends, but I have a suspicion that they’d say the same thing to one extent or another. And so, instead of slogging through the boring stuff in order to find the best way forward for our country, we egg on a fight.

What I’m really trying to say here is a couple of things that I think are really important, whether you’re trying to decide who to vote for or what you believe about God and the world:

  • First, people who agree with you and people who disagree with you – they’re all children of God, same as you.
  • Second, you have to learn how to have a real dialogue with people – otherwise you’ll never really know if you truly believe what you believe, or if you’re just echoing someone else’s belief.
  • Third, you need to dialogue with different ideas as much as possible. In the political realm, the vast majority of us will never have an opportunity to directly chat with any of the presidential candidates. But we can accomplish a similar result by doing our homework. Take responsibility and spend the time it takes to really learn what your preferred candidate believes, as well as what they’ve done on record, as well as everything you can find out about their character. Then, consider the implications of all of those things on your life personally, as well as on the future of our country.
  • Fourth, don’t be afraid of the truth, even if the truth turns out to be different than what you expected. Even if you’re a staunch democrat and Donald Drumpf ends up being America’s greatest president. Even if you’re a hard core conservative and Bernie Sanders’ policies end up saving our economy, education system, and social programs. Don’t be afraid of the truth.

Okay, that’s all. Sorry for another overly-long post, and sorry again for being an idiot before.




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