The shout-them-down rhetoric of tribal factions has so thoroughly taken over our cultural discourse until the simplest conversations have become minefields. Either you’re expected to contribute to the vitriolic diminishment of those with whom you disagree, or you will be ostracized for not conforming to tribal expectations. This isn’t to suggest that the ethos of tribal groupthink is somehow a new thing, rather, I’m only recognizing the high pitch of the sharp divide that has seized so much of our cultural engagement of one another, these days.
The only thing that the flamethrowers on each side can agree upon is that scorched earth is the only way to win – you gotta burn it down to reboot it! The good news is that those willing to actually strike the match are in a very small minority – but the bad news is that it has been this very small minority’s dark, dehumanizing mentality, which seems to be subtly at work fueling the debate. So instead of the civility of an intellectually honest exchange of ideas, where amicable disagreement is allowed to occur – we are now embroiled in bumper sticker bromides, snarky memes, and denouncements of anyone we disagree with as being stupid and/or evil . . . even when our own duplicity conspicuously exposes the shallowness of our own partisan agendas. In short, all we can do is talk at each other.
My point here isn’t to drill down into the political minutia that has become our disproportionate justification for why we must prove how right we are and how wrong they are – as I no longer have the desire to contribute to the incessant inflation of political agendas. No, my point is that we are losing our ability to hear the humanity in the voice of those with whom we disagree. Now, before you assume that I’ve been secretly speaking about “them” and that “we” are different – let me disabuse you of that notion . . . as I am convinced we all share culpability in this coarsening of the discourse.
In the gospels, the words of Jesus were often met with resistance by those lost in their own echo chambers of context and influence. So he would invite them to set aside their expectations of what they want to hear, what their ears might be itching for – words to agree with . . . or words to pounce upon — like red meat. Jesus invited them to come and know something new – in a new way of knowing. Something they may have been previously leaving out of the equation. So the choice was theirs to make – to stay and try to figure it out . . . or to walk away convinced there was nothing new worth knowing.
When my wife and children accuse me of not hearing them, my first instinct is to dismiss the accusation as absurdly inaccurate — I can obviously hear them . . . which may be true if words were all they were trying to convey. But in the invitation of Jesus to have ears to hear, I have been learning to humble myself, so I might be able to listen beyond the logic of the words being spoken, to listen for what the heart may be speaking. There is an innate dignity we extend to one another when we truly seek to listen beyond the words. You may still end up disagreeing, and that’s all right, but you will have remembered something far more valuable – that the unconditional love of God might be trying to interrupt your conversation . . . and you might just want to let that happen.
I thought this was an excellent philosophical analysis
regarding the nature of the divide.