I believe…sometimes there IS only one side

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In my previous post I spoke of the need to find middle ground between ideological extremes. This is what dialogue is all about. But, what if there IS no middle ground? What if an ideology is not only wrong, but dangerous? What if there is nothing to dialogue about?

This past weekend’s events in Charlottesville, VA laid bare the ugly reality of racism and bigotry in America.

Nazi, white-supremacist, and racist ideology is WRONG. It is EVIL. There is no common ground on which to begin a dialogue.

Any decent person with a decent knowledge of history should shudder at the sight of swastikas and Hitler style salutes. The images dig up memories of one of the most horrific mass exterminations of human life, of hatred systematically acted out in the executions of millions of men, women and children.

And yet, there they were. Hitler’s ideological descendants.  Marching on the streets of small town America. Using their right to free speech to spew hatred of the “other”. Claiming that their own white, privileged lives were under attack. Flaunting the support of the man whom they helped to elect president. And, support them he did.

By claiming that “many sides” were at fault for the violence, Trump claimed a false equivalency between the alt-right, white supremacists and those who came to protest them in the name of basic human equality. Despite the back-pedalling of the White House, Trump had clearly shown where his loyalties lie. A man who based his political platform on name-calling, refused to call by name the evil of nazi, racist, white supremacy.

There are moments in history where dialogue is not the answer. When evil rears its ugly head, threatening the security of all, it must be fought. It is not the time for nice words. It is not the time for seeking middle ground.

After hearing Trump’s speech, hubby and I were both reminded of a dark chapter in our family history. One of our daughters and her friend were sexually harassed in high school. The harasser was obviously emotionally disturbed. We feared for the safety of the girls. We spoke to teachers, the principal, and the school superintendent. We went with the girls to the police to make a report. Nothing was done. The principal finally came back with a “solution”. Mediation! The perpetrator and his victims should sit down together and try to work together towards a solution.

We were gob-smacked. Mediation implies there are two sides to an issue. There WERE no two sides. The girls were innocent victims, whose school life had become a fearful hell of what might happen if this young man finally snapped.

Eventually, the perpetrator was removed from the school but our trust in the school system was broken. Any talk of respecting the safety and dignity of each student rang hollow. Words need to be backed with effective action, or they are worthless.

In his speech, Trump called Americans to unite. Unite with what? Hold hands with evil and join in a resounding chorus of Kumbaya? No. This is not a time for unity. It is a time to stand up, speak out, protest against, and do everything we can to ensure that NEVER AGAIN.

NEVER AGAIN, will good women and men sit back while madness and hatred is allowed to fester.

NEVER AGAIN, will a leader be allowed to shamelessly rally his minions to support a platform of “us and them”, a platform of supremacy for a few while millions of lives are deprived of basic rights and value.

NEVER AGAIN.  PLEASE, GOD. NEVER AGAIN.

 

 

I believe…no ideology has monopoly on truth

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We have to stop categorizing ideology in strict binary terms. Black and white, either-or thinking might effectively describe those on the extreme fringes of conservative and liberal thought, but many of us fall in the grey zone of “somewhere in-between”.

One of my first blog posts, written in January 2011, was titled the trad-lib scale.

I like to think of the ideological scale as a very long one, with lots of room between the extremes of both conservatism and liberalism. And, unless you purposely place yourself so far to the right or left that you fall off the scale, there is room in our catholic (universal) church for all.

While the article was focused on the conservative-liberal division in our church, the idea of an ideological scale also applies to the current political divisions in our world.

What if we stopped mentally placing others into two simple camps; liberal and conservative? What if we acknowledged that thoughts and beliefs can and do find a home in the middle? What if we understood that this “middle” is an awfully big space? It may be full of questions and uncertainty, but questions and uncertainty shouldn’t be feared. Truth is found not by avoiding difficult questions, but by bravely working through them. Together.

Questions help us to test truth. To clarify truth.

There is real danger in an unmoving insistence on absolute truths, whether on the right or left. Too often, the most extreme voices are also the loudest and most passionate. Passion is a good thing, but not if it morphs into militancy. It becomes dangerous when one begins to divide the world into “us” and “them” and the “them” are to be hated.

It is becoming harder to find intelligent, rational discourse. Today’s social media is simply a collection of echo chambers. From newspapers to television networks, we choose the ones that speak the words we want to hear.

I’m not on Facebook, but I have a Twitter account. It’s addictive. I log in, and spend far too much time scrolling down the list, and clicking on articles to read. I applaud those who think like me. I chuckle at witty comments. I find justification and affirmation for my liberal rightness. Lately, though, I’ve been feeling increasingly uncomfortable with the voices that are bouncing around this echo chamber.

We left-leaning folks can be just as nasty and judgmental as right-wing conservatives. Being a smart-ass myself, I know the joy of letting loose with a snide retort or a sarcastic remark. I also know the regret, wishing I had kept my mouth shut. It’s hard to take words back.

No, I don’t believe that we need to sit back quietly, or speak only in soft, sweet voices that won’t hurt or insult anyone. These times require loud, brave voices to resist the many evils and injustices that threaten the basic rights of all. These times require rational, logical minds to point out the irrational, illogical reasoning of leaders who put their own interests before those they serve. These times require dialogue and true dialogue requires courage.

Courage is required to step out of our echo chambers and help bridge the ideological divide with sincere engagement with those who think differently from us. Who knows, we might find some truth in what they have to say!

 

dialogue is not for wimps

We find comfort living in idealogical bubbles, hanging around like-minded souls. But what if those bubbles burst? What happens when family or friends not only disagree with us, but have planted their banners in camps far across the ideological divide?

We are hearing more and more about the need for dialogue, both in the church and in the world.

Next week, this blog will be six years old. For six years I have been trying to explore and promote the concept of dialogue. Six years later, I feel I know less than when I began.

I spent almost 20 years travelling to continental and international leadership meetings of Marianist Lay Communities, an International Association of the Faithful. Respectful dialogue is a Marianist trait. We believe in “unity amid diversity”. We believe in “staying at the table” during difficult conversations. We believe in active listening and inclusivity of voices.

Nice words are easy to write or speak. They are much harder to live. I’m beginning to wonder if they can sometimes become a barrier to true, effective dialogue.

I’ve sat in too many meetings where we dance around the elephant in the room, seeking peace in platitudes and writing up nice reports. We talk of dialogue, but avoid certain issues at all cost if we know there will be disagreement. In a world that is becoming increasingly divisive, we desperately cling to unity by avoiding all conflict. We ignore disagreement, hoping it will go away.

Dialogue is not a “new age-y” form of conversation where all are affirmed in their oneness with each other and the universe. True and meaningful dialogue is tough. It is messy. Unlike debate it does not seek conflict for conflict’s sake, but conflict can’t always be avoided.

Conflict should energize, not silence dialogue.

Dialogue is not for wimps! This is one of the hardest lessons I’ve learned in these past six years. I have written many articles on dialogue for this blog and other publications. I can write nice words. I often fail miserably at dialogue in real life.

I’m an introvert who hates confrontation. I clam up when faced with a bully, allowing them to dominate the conversation.

I obsess over each word I write. I obsess over words I’ve spoken. I sit on fences or straddle them so as not to insult or anger anyone. I tailor my words to the listener.

We need more civility and gentleness in the world, yes, but sometimes trying too hard to “be nice” simply feeds our need (my need) to be liked by all.

The first step of dialogue is to verbalize your own thoughts without fear. To speak your own truth with courage.

This is what I believe… This is why I believe it…

If these words are followed by proverbial crickets, then all I have done is provided myself with a soap-box and had a good rant. If a rant takes place in a forest and there is no one there to hear it, is it still a rant? Probably. But it’s certainly not a dialogue.

If someone hears my words and responds with their own words,

Yes, but this is what I believe… This is why I believe it…

Now we have the beginnings of a dialogue!