I don’t think I’ve ever been as saddened and frustrated with my Facebook feed as I’ve been the past week.
The hate, the violence, the fear, the mischaracterizations, the overreactions, the drama….Can we all agree things have been a little crazy here in America?
We’ve been stunned by the venom, the fear, and the mischaracterizations that have been flowing from both sides. We all have someone to blame for the deep divides that run through our nation. Some blame the media or even social media. Others blame Trump or Clinton.
But isn’t that’s a big part of the problem? – that we are all blaming someone else?
We’re doing a great job of pointing fingers, but how many of us have stopped to ask, “What about ME? What should I do about all this?”
As Christian teachers, we’re in a unique position to make a real difference in our county. Politicians can create laws and enact policies, but you are on the front lines every day, impacting real lives, reaching real hearts, shaping the views of the next generation.
So what should we do with this great power, this great responsibility? How can we make a difference for good amidst all the chaos?
One thing that has become abundantly clear is that we Americans do not understand each other very well. Trump voters have been called racists and bigots. Hillary supporters have been mocked for their fearful reactions in the wake of the results. And none of this is doing a bit of good.
You see, as Americans we haven’t really been engaging each other on important political or social issues. We either… 1) Get together with people who agree with us and talk about how stupid or unreasonable the other side is (that does no good). 2) Get on our high horse and post something on Facebook that is then misinterpreted and leads to a big, unproductive argument (also does no good) or 3) Determine to avoid the whole controversy by keeping our little mouths shut (this at least does no harm but it also does no good).
But none of these approaches are working so well. Because whether you’re relieved or terrified at outcome of the election, you can’t help but see how fragmented our nation is becoming. And while some of these divisions are natural, it is not natural or good that we seem to be so vehemently opposed to each other.
Notice I said “each other” not “each other’s views.” We are going to disagree on key social and political issues. This is natural and part of life. But this venomous opposition to each OTHER is not good for society, not good for us, and certainly not good for the next generation.
How are we ever supposed to make progress on any important issue without genuinely engaging each other? How are ever supposed to be salt and light to our society if we keep avoiding anything controversial? How will we ever bridge the gap if we just spout off our own views without genuinely listening to the views of others?
What this country desperately needs (amongst many things) is healthy dialogue.
It won’t be easy. It won’t be comfortable. But we need to do it anyhow.
And that’s also what we must teach our students.
Here’s a few things to keep in mind…
To Create Healthy & Productive Dialogue…
- We must love others even when we can’t respect their opinions.
The phrase “please respect my opinion” gets thrown around a lot. I’ve said it, I know. But as I’ve thought about it more this week, I’ve realized that sometimes it really is impossible to respect someone’s opinion. Sometimes we disagree on such a fundamental level that there’s simply no way to respect the opinion itself. But that doesn’t mean we can’t love the person or that we can’t disagree respectfully.
We MUST start with genuine love and caring. And we need to realize that most people we talk to are not horrible monsters who are purposefully causing problems. Most people are genuinely trying to do the right thing. And while that doesn’t mean they’re right, it certainly means that they deserve our love and respect. And if we’re going to create healthy dialogue, we have to start there.
- Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
Too often our response to the other side is “how on earth could you think that!?” instead of “I’d love to hear how you came to that conclusion.”
Do you hear the difference? The first throws up walls and puts people on the defensive while the second opens the door for a genuine dialogue. It’s not threatening, it’s not divisive, and it’s not even that scary of a thing to ask.
When we genuinely listen, genuinely hear someone’s heart on why they hold a certain view or believe a certain way, then and only then can we share our own views with any type of relevance or relatability.
Then and only then can we have a real dialogue where both people walk away having learned something about each other, where both people are challenged to think through the issues in a deeper way and come to a better understanding of what is right and good.
- Engage with a win-win philosophy.
Often we view people on the other side (whichever side that is) as the enemy. I mean, they are basically trying to destroy America, right?
They may be misinformed, they may be misguided. But most people aren’t trying to cause problems. Most people are genuinely trying to solve them, genuinely trying to do what’s right.
So if we’re going to dialogue, we must start with the assumption that we actually want the same thing at its core. We just disagree on how to get there.
Now I’m not talking about compromising our beliefs or singing Kumbaya. I’m talking about a mindset that looks for common values and interests first – and then explores the different views of how to get there.
An example might help explain: Let’s say I’m discussing abortion with someone who is very concerned about “the rights of a woman to control her own body.” Instead of coming at it from a win-lose vantage point of “Abortion is murder. End of story,” what if I took a win-win approach and started from the assumption that we both deeply value human rights. And if we agree on that, I can ask what they think about the rights of an unborn child…and the discussion can go on from there.
See the difference?
- Keep the Gospel in the forefront of your mind.
Whether or not the Gospel actually comes up in our conversations, we must remember its real impact in every situation.
For ourselves, we must allow the Gospel to shape all our social and political views. We must always be searching the Scriptures, seeking to closely follow God’s truths.
We must also realize that we have nothing to fear from politicians and their laws. We may face very real dangers, we may even suffer persecution at some point, but it is all in God’s hands and according to His purposes. We may not always understand, but we can trust Him implicitly as we yield our lives to His perfect plan.
Furthermore, we must remember the power of the Gospel to change minds and transform hearts. All of the problems in our society are, at their core, spiritual problems. And while policies may make them slightly better or somewhat worse, only the truth of the Gospel can set men free.
As such, we must not be afraid to take a discussion of a social issue into spiritual grounds. Since our beliefs on social and political issues are often tied tightly to the Gospel, it is often a natural segue and one we must take advantage of.
In all this, we must be careful never to let our zeal for the state of our beloved America jeopardize for an instant the chance to impact a soul for eternity. But when we genuinely love, genuinely listen, and and kindly share our hearts, we have the potential to do much good, to make the Gospel attractive, and to begin to heal the deep divide that in many cases hinders the light of the Gospel from shining brightly in our midst.
And above all, we must pray. Pray for God to work, to send revival, and to fill us with His love and His truth.
So let’s start practicing this open dialogue both in our own lives and in our classrooms. Let’s teach our students how to listen and learn from each other, how to disagree respectfully, how to articulate truth, and how to work together to find real solutions.
We can’t solve all our country’s problems overnight, but by God’s grace we can do something about it. And as we’re led by His Spirit, we can take a step in the right direction.
And for goodness sake, maybe we should all just stay off Facebook…