The Value of Open Dialogue

During Part 2 of our seminar on Celtic Christianity last Saturday, near the end of the discussion I made an offhand generalization about Trump supporters. Another participant civilly and respectfully offered a different opinion. While I internally chided myself for bringing politics into the discussion, I was glad that other person spoke their mind, and did so in a calm, rational manner that allowed for an open dialogue.

We need to be able to have open, honest, civil discussions with people of differing beliefs, whether those beliefs are political, religious, or falling under any other category. 

We have lost our ability to engage in civil discussions with people who hold differing beliefs. Somehow, our national dialogue has devolved into self-confirming echo chambers or vitriolic screaming matches. 

Political discussions in particular are usually overrun with dehumanizing statements about the other side. “How can any rational person agree with X, how could any person with a heart support Y. If you support Z, I don’t want to talk to you.”

I’m not sure where this extreme polarization came from, but it’s become a self-fulfilling negative feedback loop that only serves to widen the divide in America and in the world.

We need to remember how to express an opinion without vilifying those holding a differing opinion. 

Every person has a right to their own opinion. Each of us feels that we have no other choice but to believe what we believe, to feel what we feel. The thoughts in our mind arise as a result of our innate personality tendencies, the experiences that shaped our lives, and the current circumstances. None of us chooses to think the thoughts that arise in our head, they arise unbidden, when the circumstances come together to produce those thoughts.

Just as you feel you have no choice but to react in a certain way to a given issue, so does the person on the opposite side of that issue feel that they have no choice but to react in their way. 

Dehumanizing that person will only ruin any opportunity to have a productive discussion on that issue. 

When did it become wrong for people think different from us? It wasn’t always like this. If we want to heal America of this sickening polarization that is ripping us apartment, we must return to an era of civil discourse between opposing viewpoints. 

Every person has a right to their own opinion, and to respectfully express that opinion, as long they also respect the right of others to hold their own opinion. 

When we think of “the other side” as a monolithic block, we lose sight of the humanity of each individual in that group. There is no one single reason people support a particular party, candidate, religion, or any other issue. Each us has our own, complicated, interdependent reasons for believing what we believe. 

When I made that generalization about Trump supporters during our seminar, I was guilty of grouping them all together into one monolithic block. I am grateful to the person who pointed out the error of my statement. This is how we benefit from open dialogue.

The only way we can hope to understand the reasons of others is through open, non-judgmental discussions. 

Personally, I hope all future discussions at the Abbey are characterized by civil, respectful conversations of differing beliefs. 

Published by Matthew B

Surfing the eddies of existence.

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