Sunday, July 23
Sunday, July 23, 2006
I don't think people are often attacked for having an opinion, but because someone feels bullied or disrespected in some way. The offense may be real or imagined, but it's not opinions that upset people. It's how they're delivered and how they're taken. The most common mistake people then make is to keep pressing their positions on the issue, without addressing hurt feelings, misunderstandings, personal judgments and so on. That's a bit like thinking a divorce is all about who gets the furniture.
Beliefs are the furniture of our thinking, mental objects which sit around the house, and we walk around because we don't think they can be moved. Then we get mad at others for moving our furniture around in conversations. It's not that the beliefs are so important, it's that our brains are sensitive to domination, and we feel dominated when our mental filters are moved without permission. In order to understand anyone else's position, we have to have the ability to see through their filters, which can be challenging or frightening if their filters show us something unpleasant about ourselves, whether the judgment is fair or unfair.
For some reason, Americans (or maybe it's humans in general?) have a tendency to blur the line between having an opinion and being pushy or defensive(defensive meaning "pushy and jutified by a less secure position") and lash out unconsciously when they feel pushed by the other party. Again, it doesn't matter if an offense was real or unreal, the pattern is for both sides to push harder on a point, rather than backing up and realizing the other person feels bullied and needs to be reassured no personal attack was meant.
Rather than making arguments about politics or religion personal, what if we took a step back and looked at how arguments erupt in general, and what works and doesn't work to create civility and respect for the person while remaining in disagreement on the particulars of belief?
Whether a belief is in an uncompromising form of Christianity, Islam or atheism, or something less absolute and axiomatic like Scientific Pantheism, Buddhism or agnosticism, it would make a huge difference (in my absolute and unwavering opinion) if we learned as a culture the distinction between sticking to a point, and sticking *on* a point. We can all stick to our opinions without disrespecting anyone. But not everyone has learned (call out Dr. Phil's cadre of personal trainers) the art of remaining comfortable in one's beliefs while being comfortable with someone else's differences of belief, and keeping difficult conversations friendly and free of personal attacks and defensiveness. That may just be a cultural hygeine issue. Are there cultures which are especially good at accepting and transcending differences, and cultures which are especially intolerant and insensitive toward people who don't conform to the same belief system? Are there people who try to restore ecology to communication and are phased out, and people who attempt to preserve a belief at the expense of difference?
We can keep having the exact same arguments people are having in a million other places on the planet, oblivious to the ways divisions in ideology turn people into puppets that must feel attacked when the argument calls for feeling attaked, and lash out, stereotype and demonize when the argument calls for lashing out, stereotyping and demonization. As human beings, we have more to look forward to than becoming robots, fighting over religion simply because our civilization's historical script calls for a crusade, for anti-spiritual nihilism and materalism, and for the stamping out of heresy. It's not like it all hasn't happened before. We just have the benefit of hindsight (I hope).