"Sunshine and Shadows"
A few nights ago I watched a TV news report about the current controversy over the patriotism of NFL players who refuse to stand during the national anthem at football games. The TV story focused on a group of fans “protesting” outside the stadium. On one side, the protesters were denouncing players who would not stand and on the other side, the protesters were defending those players who “took a knee” during the anthem. I actually found the images of this protest to be frightening and also emblematic. It wasn’t frightening because these people disagreed with one another, the scary part of it was how they disagreed.
As they stood outside the stadium people on opposing sides were stridently shouting each other down. One person in particular was screaming, “I hate you, I really hate you” and someone on the opposing side responded by yelling back, “you are disgusting.” It struck me that these people on the different sides didn’t know one another, they had never even met or had any conversations with one another and yet they were able to tell each other how much they hated the other or how disgusting they were.
Unfortunately, I think this incident is probably quite iconic of our common life in a society that is so divided nowadays. We live in an age of clearly delineated “identity politics.” Many if not most of us has “sided” with similar others and locked ourselves inside a camp of fortified walls. Of course each separate camp is absolutely sure that they are right and the “other side” is wrong and so when we disagree over matters like patriotism or race or politics or religion we are sure that someone from a different camp must be “wrong” or perhaps even “evil.” For this reason, we can hate another or think someone from the other side is disgusting without ever having met them or talked with them or before we really know what another person actually thinks.
A few days ago I came across a very helpful article in the New York Times, suggesting that, if our culture is to survive into the future, we need to learn how to disagree with one another. Of course we live in a culture in which people will inevitably hold opposing ideas and opposing ideologies (after all that’s what living a democratic society is supposed to be all about); and yet, there is an “art” of healthy disagreement, an art we seem to have lost in this era of identity politics. The Times article offered this insight:
Disagreements should arise not from misunderstanding
but from perfect comprehension;
from having thoroughly chewed over the idea of your opponent.
In other words, to disagree you must first understand well.
You must listen carefully to the other
and be wiling to grant an adversary moral respect,
even allowing for the possibility that
you may even be persuaded by what the other person has to say.
I think of the many times I have observed “disagreements” aired in a wide variety of social media platforms where “disagreements” almost always take the form of “personal attacks,” sometimes vicious and degrading personal attacks leveled against others on the “opposing side.” I almost never hear people actually “listening” to what someone else might be saying, sure that they know what opponents think even before they speak. So, I am seriously convinced that we would all do well to learn how to disagree with one another with an open heart and an open mind.
As I think about it, “disagreeing” can be a necessary discipline to be practiced on any type of spiritual journey. Almost every spiritual path promotes and prizes the “dignity” of every human being. If we disagree with one another while yet respecting and promoting each other’s dignity, we are on the path of truth.
I am reminded of a line from one of my favorite Rumi poems:
Out beyond ideas of right and wrong there is a field,
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
even the phrase ‘each other’ doesn’t make any sense.