You know, it occurs to me that in the world we’re living in today there is a serious need for us to collectively make room for some pretty dang important concepts; Concepts that at one time, or so I hope I’m correct in remembering, used to be common values among all of us. And when I say all of us, I mean ALL of us. I don’t mean people like me. I don’t mean Americans. I mean ALL y’all- as they say down here in the South.
I am going to unpack this…
But before I do, I just want to disclaimer here, because I’m once again venturing into some pretty murky waters and so I feel the need to say that my goal here, and in this blog generally, is to just offer perspective. Not simply MY perspective, because I am truly gaining my perspective as this very website suggests every single day, but just another perspective. I don’t have cable and I don’t watch the news and I don’t even really have a ‘side’ or a ‘dog in the fight’ so to speak and so I feel like I am not generally very heated on any given issue. I just, again, felt really compelled to push this message out there because I fear that we’re getting to a place where we won’t be able to see the forrest for the trees and we may need to just take a time out.
Okay, so here we go…
First order of business: We need to make room for having a change of heart. At one point in the narrative of our world, someone who thought one thing and then decided that they actually had now come to think another thing over time, or through speculation, research, and experience… that was called growth. That was actually a sign of wisdom. God knows that when I was eighteen and nineteen I believed a WHOLE lot of things that now, my life experience tells me are silly. And I’m talking about big things- I’m talking about core values, beliefs… the way I vote, the issues that are important to me. This doesn’t make me, or people like me, flip floppers. This doesn’t mean that I’ve now been brainwashed. This doesn’t mean that I’ve somehow been persuaded against my will, and it doesn’t make me an idiot- it just means that my life has informed me otherwise. Do you hear what I’m saying? Anyone with me on this one?
We’re so critical of people who change their minds or their viewpoints, especially in politics and religion. Isn’t that always one of the shots fired between politicians? “Twenty years ago he thought this, and now he’s changed his mind. We can’t have someone like that in power!” What is that? If I still believed everything I believed twenty years ago I really would be an idiot (seriously, you don’t know what I used to believe… ).
We immediately see this ‘change of heart’ as a weakness. Shameful. Why is that? When did this start? I’ve been on the receiving end of some pretty serious eye rolls because while in college I was an Atheist and a Democrat… now I’m not. I was also a chronic drinker and a little slutty (let’s be real)… now I’m not. The eye rolls come because of the assumptions that are being made on the behalf of the eye-rollee, am I wrong? For example, if I’m not a Democrat, I must be a Republican (fill in a whole laundry list of assumptions about this one and I’ll tackle this in just one second). Or if I’m a Christian I must be a racist, a bigot and against gay marriage (again, more on this in a second).
We need to make room for people to be able to explore their beliefs, discuss them, critically think about them… and then come to a different conclusion if that’s what happens. And we should seek out the people who have had these types of radical shifts and ask them WHY!!! How?? What caused such a swing? I know this because in researching a book I’m working on, I’ve actually had to go and interview people who believe radically different things than I do. I’ve had to reflect on and evaluate every single decision that led me to change my personal belief system. Can you even imagine what I’ve learned from this? We need to make room again to learn from one another. We need to make room for respect again.
It’s okay if it doesn’t change YOUR beliefs to enter into these discussions, but I’ve grown to more deeply understand these people I’ve chatted with. Yes, it’s possible to discuss respectfully and still agree to disagree.
And on that theme, we really do need to make room for critical discussion and debate. We need to stop the hate. We need to stop the radical emotional arguments. We need to stop lumping people into groups and throwing them away with the bathwater (so to speak).
In a world where we can post whatever the heck we want on social media and then block or delete any comments of an opposing view point, I fear that Brene Brown is dead on in saying that we are absolutely SEEKING OUT an echo chamber in which our own feelings, thoughts and beliefs are the ONLY ones we will allow to come back at us. We unfollow, unfriend, attack, block and yell at ANY opposing viewpoint.
Just this week, a friend of mine posted a comment on Facebook on two separate articles that were shared by two separate friends of theirs. In both cases, this friend was voicing an incredibly polite and yet counter argument to the claims of the post- not even the claims of the article- and in both cases, these posts were simply taken down. No discussion. No conversation. Just taken down. We can so easily avoid the confrontation, or throw our stones from the comfort of our laptops without fear of actually having to discuss our beliefs. What is that about? Why are we so aggressive with each other that now there can be NO respectful conversation? We’re just blocking, avoiding, deleting. How will we EVER learn from one another if we never allow for any other school of thought to be put before us?
I always valued debate class far more than English because when I had to write a persuasive essay, it was easy to turn that bad boy in because I knew no one would be coming at me with a retort. All I had to worry about was a grade. But in debate class… I had better know my sh*t, if you know what I mean, because I was going to have to stand my ground and debate my issue.
That’s missing now. We need to make room for it again. BUT, we need to be oh so conscious of doing it without the assumptions dragged in. We need to be respectful. Instead of assuming this person is an idiot because they believe differently, allow them to educate you on where they’re coming from. Maybe they’re actually smarter than you! God knows I’ve discovered this more than once in my debating life! Being humbled is a true awakening, my friends.
This brings me to my next point… we’ve got to let go of the ‘us vs them’ mentality. There is only ONE us, Readers… and we’re all in this together, sorry to say. This is such a RED FLAG of programing, if you ask me. And by that I mean WE have been programed to choose a side and then fight for our side. We can’t change sides. And if we’re right, the other side is 100% wrong. And as long as we keep pointing the finger at ‘them’ then no one will ever have a chance to look… within. No one will ever pay attention to what really matters if it’s never ‘our’ fault and always ‘theirs.’ It creates this impulse in us, because of the nature of our world these days, to associate ourselves with a group, therefore assigning whoever doesn’t agree to the ‘other’ group.
We will never learn and we will continue to break down if we keep falling for this mentality. We’ve GOT to make room for the ‘ALL of us’ group. We’ve got to make room for middle ground. We’ve got to make a space for people to come together- to compromise… remember that word?
During the 2016 elections, this became so obvious to me. I’d comment on someone’s post in support of Hillary and I’d get all the hell fire and damnation due a Trump supporter. When I refused to back Trump as my candidate, one of two things would undoubtedly happen… I would be pushed towards choosing a side. Of course I had to have at least a lean, and that needed to be somehow uncovered. OR there would be this painful confusion… if I wasn’t here or there, then where on earth could I possible be?
We need to make room for things to be a little gray sometimes. We need to realize there is room in the middle.
But this is where I have to circle back to the issues I put forth a little earlier where all the assumptions get made. Because of this programing of ‘us vs them’ there IS no middle ground. You can’t be one thing here and then another thing over there. It’s got to be all or nothing.
For example, listening to Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness today, she gives an example where she made reference of the fact that she owned a gun. Someone then immediately jumped to the conclusion that because she owned a gun she didn’t believe in gun control and she supported the NRA. Brene points out that these assumptions were wrong on both accounts. And the same is true in my family- we own guns but completely support responsible gun ownership, and gun laws. Owning guns doesn’t make you a ‘gun nut,’ or against gun control, or a school shooter, or someone who supports school shooters, nor does it make you a member of the NRA, a supporter of the NRA, or even a Republican. This may sound extreme, but I’ve been called each of these things because I am a gun owner.
Maybe this isn’t registering with you, so let me put it another way… have you ever, in ANY situation in your life, been on the receiving end of what seems to be an instant download of information about YOU that is taking place in someone else’s head?
This happened to me twice this past week.
Once, as I was standing in line to get a drink at a bar, I started up a conversation with a gal standing next to me. I must have said something about God in the conversation because she asked me if I was a ‘Believer’ (which is insider language for a person who believes in God). I said I was. Suddenly we were taking about gender and same sex issues. The assumptions that had been made were actually not meant to be offensive towards me in anyway in this case. But the assumptions weren’t correct even still. Even now, thinking back, I could have handled that conversation so much better. It was an amazing moment for growth and learning, and I didn’t take the opportunity for what it was. But this is what I do know and felt yucky not vocalizing more directly (for fear): Being a Christian does not actually mean you’re above other people, or that your sin isn’t as big as another person’s sin, or that you’re willing and able to be in a place of judgement. I don’t want to be lumped in with that, do you?
Because of these assumptions and the black and white, ‘us vs them’ mentality, there is no room for anywhere in the middle.
In another instance, a dear friend of mine- who has known me for years- asked a mutual friend of ours, “Do you lean more towards me, or do you lean more towards Wendy.” I was so confused by this statement given the fact that my friend and I had NEVER had a political conversation in the history of our friendship, and this comment was 100% in reference to my political standing. She went on to infer that I was ‘conservative’ and she was not.
This made me so sad and hurt because I knew exactly what she meant by that, and as well as she knew me, she had allowed her assumptions to override what she knew about who I actually was. It hurt. Maybe you’ve been there. These assumptions are so damaging because they leave NO ROOM for what is real. In this case, the term ‘conservative’ came with a laundry list of bullet points to which I somehow was now associated with in her mind, and the truth of the matter is… if we ever did have a conversation about it… I think she’d find that she had missed the mark on most of it.
I hope we can start to make room for these conversations. They’re important.
Lastly, we need to make room for GRACE, my friends. Man… are we so starved for grace or what? I just can’t even get over it. This is an era where ego wins and friendships and relationships are absolutely disposable. We live in a world where there is no forgiveness, there is no room for mistakes, there can be no missteps. Who you were is who you always will be- or else! Well, I don’t know about you, but if I had to answer for the person I was when I was a teenager today… it would be a sad state of affairs. The truth of the matter is I don’t even know the person that I used to be. I can’t even seem to wrap my mind around the broken, devalued, lost and used up person that exists in my past. THANK GOD for amazing grace, because I don’t have to continue to live in the shadow of that. And neither do you.
But listen to me now, because I’m not just going off on another Christian rant here… although there is amazing, true, and life altering grace available that I’d love to tell you more about… I want to ask that we give each other a little grace, because YOU know that YOU need it too. We’ve done it wrong, we’re not perfect, we change our minds, we are afraid, we yell, we lose our patience, we cheat, we lie, we break down, we get embarrassed, and we’re even wrong sometimes… and we are desperate for grace. We need to cut each other a little slack. Instead of assuming your friend is an idiot, why don’t you kindly ask them where they’re coming from? Learn from them. Be willing to be wrong. Be willing to give a little. If they’re going off on a tangent that you don’t agree with, don’t write them off, give them grace. Be kind.
We desperately need to make room for grace in this world. We need to be willing to say that who this person is in this space, may not be who they are in this space over here. We need to forgive. We need to let go. And we need to take responsibility. As someone who literally chokes on the words ‘I’m sorry’ I know how hard it can be to admit when we’ve done wrong, or when we’ve just BEEN wrong…
To make room for ‘I’m sorry’ and personal responsibility, we need to make room for grace.
Y’all, we’re never going to find our way out of this divisive world if we can’t make room… the farther we push each other away, and the more we wind up on opposing sides, the larger the gap is in the middle…. there is ROOM THERE!!
So I’m going to start with me. I’m willing to do it imperfectly, because I’m tempted by that evil judgement, and I make assumptions. I hope you know I do. But I’m going to be more aware of it. I’m going to give more grace. I’m going to be a little bit more brave, and a lot more kind, when I enter into discussions… because I want to learn. I want to know what is happening. I want to grow. And I’m okay if that makes me an idiot sometimes.
So in the famous words of Jerry McGuire…
WHO’S COMING WITH ME?