The internet, for all its joys and wonders, has become a place rife with opinions, even and especially ludicrously unnecessary ones. (Such as whether or not a hot dog is a sandwich. It’s not. Don’t @ me.) We’ve created a culture in which everyone must have an unshakeable opinion about everything. And on these social platforms, we lambast and clap back. We subtweet and throw shade. Very rarely do we seem to extend a hand in grace or understanding.
And lately, it feels like Twitter has been bleeding all over the real world, coloring everything a mad, mad red.
Have we ever been so polarized?
I’ve never liked disagreeing with people. I don’t like confronting differing opinions or beliefs. Like many, I prefer staying where it’s safe—wrapped in the warm embrace of self-affirming echo chambers.
But so much of the current national political divisiveness is made of that same unwillingness to engage. We don’t want to understand. We want to be understood. More than that, we want everyone to think the same things we do.
And maybe it’s about more than just our political leanings—maybe this mad desire to live in a whitewashed, agreeable world goes a little deeper.
We entangle our beliefs with our identities so tightly that they can hardly breathe, stretch, shift. If our beliefs are a part of us—even that they become us—then hearing them critiqued or challenged feels like a stripping away of our soul. We cling so tightly to them, these beliefs, like driftwood in a sea of doubt and confusion. Without our beliefs, are we lost?
So many of our beliefs are wrapped up in our insecurities and neuroses: I believe this because it’s what my friends believe. I can’t say that out loud—people will think I’m crazy. I believe this because it makes me look smart/enlightened/worldly. I believe that because it makes going to church easier.
We think we choose our beliefs because we’ve thought carefully about them. We don’t. We choose our beliefs for social currency or smoothness, for prestige, for comfort, for the way they make us appear. We our choose beliefs to fit in, to belong.
We choose our beliefs because of the life experiences that have hurt us and helped us. We’ve all been broken in different ways and have different ideas about the best way to fix it.
No one chooses a belief because they relish being evil. Aside from a few anomalies, the majority of humans on this planet want what’s best for their family and the ones they love. The problems come when we try to define “best.”
If we want to understand rather than be understood, we need to ask people what their “best” is, and why. Usually, these answers transform the ugly, distorted caricatures in our heads that represent the opposition. With every answer, every personal story, we start to see the fuller picture. We start to see as they see—how someone with those life experiences and education and social class and ethnicity and gender and religion and etc. could come to those conclusions. We may not agree, but we can empathize.
Friends, we need to hold these beliefs lightly. We need to stand in a posture of receiving—arms up, palms open—to truly hear and understand the people around us. We need to live with grace and compassion, not censure and ridicule.
I’m trying to keep all of this in mind in this season—my friends and I are reading a book about a topic on which we don’t agree.
It’s hard. It’s not fun. Most of the time, I’m not listening to understand. I’m listening to pounce, shout my argument into their ear, and then tear out their throat. Or I’m mentally retreating behind a blank and seemingly attentive face, flinching at all the disagreeing going on.
So. You know. It goes. But if I can be a big girl and bear it, if I can train myself to disagree with compassion, grace, and respect, then maybe the world won’t see so scary and divided. Maybe I’ll see people as they are—broken and healing and all looking for their best.