To Understand and to be Understood (Or Polarize and Pulverize)

tumblr_inline_nboumj5ZO61qersu1A few months ago, President Obama spoke on free speech at a town hall meeting in Des Moines, Iowa, talking about how frustrating it was to him that people are getting more and more uncomfortable with encountering people who disagree with them (you can find the story with a video of his talk, which was specifically geared toward colleges and college students, here).

He said,

I don’t agree that… you have to be coddled and protected from different points of view. Anybody who comes to speak to you and you disagree with, you should have an argument with them, but you shouldn’t silence them by saying… “I’m too sensitive to hear what you have to say.” That’s not how we learn.

Apparently, people seemed surprised that he said that (and Janell Ross of the Washington Post seemed just as surprised as I was). I, personally, am actually more surprised that I found the story on a blatantly partisan news[-ish] site.

But I digress.

I bring this up because I cannot help but think about how true this statement is. In our present day, we are encountering a presidential race that might actually be the craziest one in recent memory (going far beyond the few that I’ve “experienced” in my 22 years here on earth), and tensions are running high in regards to issues of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity. We live in a post-9/11, post-Ferguson, post-Obergefell v. Hodges, post-Caitlyn Jenner world.

We have become divided: society is calling us to take sides, to pitch tents around those whose ideas line up best with our own.

“Liberals are ruining our values and our way of life.”

“Conservatives are too caught up in a fantasy world where gay people and Muslims don’t exist and guns solve more problems than they create.”

Polarize and Pulverize. And then do it all again.

But in my experience (again, 22 years is practically an eternity and a half), no one can truly be broken down into a caricature. We are wrong if we assume that this black woman is a flame-throwing feminist, or this white man is a Donald Trump supporter, and seek to go no further. Even if they are, is that how they should be defined? Reduced down to? Dismissed as?

You can call me naive, and perhaps I am a little, but I like to believe that people generally have a purpose behind their perspectives. Maybe it’s ignorance, as their adversaries oftentimes suggest, but maybe it’s something else. The beautiful thing about our country and our world is that we do have different points of view. And if we continue to deny someone else’s understanding of the world, then our own ignorance is only perpetuated. Nothing changes, and nothing is improved.

This is not to say that we should accept someone’s opinions if they have a differing worldview; rather, we should share with them our own, and seek to understand each other. Maybe then we can learn from one another. Maybe then we can grow as a society and as individuals.

If all we do is categorize each other as “them” and “us,” soon the latter is bound to disappear forever.

So what I hope to do with this blog is offer a platform from which people can safely and intuitively seek to understand those who they don’t agree with. Through a common desire to understand and to be understood, I want you, the reader, to pose questions and offer your viewpoints on the topic in a manner that I can post on this blog (though, for the nature of this blog and my standing as its sole operator, I would prefer the topics be limited to cultural, theological, or social topics).

For example, someone could write a post entitled, “What I Don’t Understand about Christians Who are Pro-Choice,” or “5 Questions I Have for People Who Still Deny Climate Change,” and then talk about how you see the topic and why you believe what you believe. Then, hopefully, if all goes well, I will do my best to find someone who has a different perspective and have them offer their own point of view in an equally humble and graceful way, and then post their response here, as well. (Also, you can absolutely remain anonymous if you so choose.)

The goal is not to attack or to change one’s mind, but simply to expand our own perspectives through conversation and, dare I say, civility. It’s messy, it’s awkward, it’s uncomfortable, and it might even be a little risky. But what I hope is that through this, we can see the true beauty found in the complexity and diversity in the world, and from that we can create bonds and connections with each other in spite of our differences, like liberal Leslie Knope and libertarian Ron Swanson from the TV show Parks and Recreation (an incredible video commentary on their relationship can be found in this video); or Charles Xavier and Magneto from The X-Men (again, a good video commentary on their relationship can be found here, and you can watch this chilling scene from the first X-Men movie played by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, who are themselves best friends, right here); or Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg in real life (sorry, you have to actually read their story).

So I invite you to join me on my quest to understand and be understood, to know and be known, to love and be loved in return (all the Moulin Rouge fans shouted together, with Nat King Cole fans singing along). May we have a conversation with our transgender neighbor instead of scrunching our face at the sight of them. May we approach our neighbor who hosts NRA meetings in his house with an open heart and an open mind. May we seek not to tear each other down but rather to build each other up. It is only then that true growth and change can occur.

Thanks for reading. Until next time.

* * *

P.S. Comedian duo Key and Peele offer a painfully hilarious example of misunderstanding and misinterpretation with text messages, so take a minute and bask in this brilliant satirical take on reality (warning: explicit).

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