A long-time good friend and I are having an ongoing cyberspace discussion about a controversial social issue; our opinions are polar opposites. We both are Christians but he’s pretty conservative and I am not. We both are smart, articulate and thoughtful. And we both love each other. I’m guessing neither one of us will change our mind, but – as he says – we are discussing our sincere differences sincerely. And we both are better for it.
I know where he’s coming from because I used to believe pretty much the same way. I’ve made similar arguments; I’ve had similar concerns. We’ve both grown and changed since we were so close, but we’ve grown and changed in different directions. Such is the human journey. Such is the way of relationships.
But for us, relationship is the key; being friends is more important to us than being right (but of course, we both think we are right!) I am grateful this friendship means as much to him as it does to me because I have other conservative friends who have broken off their relationships; they unfriended me on Facebook a long time ago. It’s like some people are so committed to a particular (peculiar) kind of integrity that agreeing to disagree somehow compromises their core ethics. They seem to believe their sworn duty is to fix me, to change me and if they can’t do that, then we can’t be friends. This belief system makes me immensely sad because it contributes to alienation and estrangement throughout the human community. Friends, families, governments… minds set in stone, conversation in talking points, assassinating character and impugning integrity, listening just enough to misunderstand…
I admit I don’t have these kinds of probing conversations with very many of my conservative friends; most of us agree to disagree and then agree not to talk about it. But this friend is precious. Authentic community between human beings is always precious, but when we make a real effort to build community, when it calls for an extra dose of patience and understanding and respect and compassion – that kind of relationship is rare and beautiful and precious.
Our current American civilization is not very civil these days. There are deep divides that separate us; strong differences of opinion that keep pushing us farther and farther apart. But I think it’s not the divides and the differences themselves that are the problem. We’ve always had our differences and when we’re smart, we recognize that our diversity is part of our strength. No, I don’t think it’s our differences that are the problem; I think it’s the fear.
In a recent interview, Stephen Colbert, a well known Roman Catholic, was asked which is his favorite Bible verse: “Do not worry about your life…” he quickly replied. And “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.” In order to stay mindful, Stephen believes, one cannot live in fear. It’s a little like comedy, he explains: You can’t laugh and be afraid at the same time.
“You can’t laugh and be afraid at the same time.”
There are plenty of things in our lives, in our world that justifiably cause anxiety. Stephen Colbert knows that as well or better than must of us. But we’re not going to solve any of our problems if we can’t talk to each other, if we don’t participate in honest conversation and collaborate in creative dreaming. We can’t hope to find our common connections if we don’t discuss our sincere differences sincerely. We can’t build bridges of cooperation if we don’t come together across the deep divides. We can’t live if we don’t laugh and love.
I’m not sure this will ever happen on Facebook – even though I volunteer for Coffee Party USA and I have high hopes that more and more people will commit to civil public conversation around controversial issues. But I do believe we can build these bridges one relationship at a time. “Anthropology trumps ideology,” another friend likes to say. When I really get to know a person – who they are, where they come from, what they value; when I really grow to love a person – then my dogmas become less rigid and my boundaries become more porous. One friend, one family member, one co-worker who sees the world differently can be a great resource for expanding our understanding. One person’s effort to listen and learn from another (especially one who has been “the other”) can erode fear and cultivate love and laughter.
You may say I’m a dreamer.
But I’m not the only one.
Charlotte Vaughan Coyle lives in Paris TX and blogs about intersections of faith, culture and politics on her website and Intersections Facebook page. She frequently shares her thoughts with Coffee Party USA as a regular volunteer.
Colbert Catechism: Stephen Colbert Professes His Faith to Fr. James Martin