When my girls were little, I decided not to allow words like hate, dumb, stupid or idiot to be used. I wanted to focus on the positive and I didn’t like the attitude that came with those words. One day when my daughter had just turned three, she was standing in a rocking chair as I was changing her sisters’ diapers. When I asked her to please get down, she got very angry with me. I can still see her cute little face all scrunched up with all the anger she could muster. She spit out the worst words she could think of to say to me. “Mommy! DUMB, HATE, DUMB HATE, DUMB HATE!!” It’s been our running family joke that it was the worst thing she ever did.
Obviously, saying or not saying a handful of words is not going to change the world. I often feel completely overwhelmed by the state of our society. The hatred, the lack of understanding, tolerance and empathy alone are enough to make you lose all hope. Add to that all the children who are growing up without knowing what it’s like to be loved unconditionally, to be encouraged and nurtured, to be taught the very basics of relationships and life skills, it starts to seem like there is no possible solution.
Sometimes, when I peruse social media I wonder if anyone realizes just how rude they sound. I see opinions being shouted from the pages and all I can think is “Don’t these people have friends with differing opinions?” But then I remember that they probably don’t. After all, birds of a feather flock together. It feels pretty good to post an opinionated quote and immediately get forty “likes”. It’s called preaching to the choir. I’ve become convinced that this is actually the purpose of these posts. After all, we can’t possibly think we’re going to change the opinion of someone on the “other side” by posting a witty quote, can we? There are so many issues that produce very strong emotional opinions, yet we are very reluctant to recognize anything worthwhile in the argument for the “other side”. We don’t even want to listen to what they have to say. We KNOW that we are RIGHT and they are WRONG and we don’t want to talk about it. We get angry. We scrunch up our faces and shout the worst things we can possibly shout: “DUMB, HATE, DUMB, HATE!!!”
Is there really ever an issue with a completely right and wrong side, though? Even issues that might appear to be very black and white become much more nuanced when talking to, AND really listening to people who feel passionately about the other side of an issue.
Recently, the whole issue of immunizations has hit the news once again, due to the Disney measles outbreak. Sometimes it’s breastfeeding or homeschooling or spanking that are the hot issues. Then there are the hot button political issues like gun control, abortion and gay rights. Some people are barely able to look at someone they know holds a different opinion than theirs on these issues. Sometimes it almost seems like it might be better to just avoid these subjects altogether, or at least avoid the people we know that hold other opinions. It would keep us from getting into fiery confrontations. But is that the point of life in a diverse society? To keep the peace and avoid confrontation? Or is it to try and convince everyone that your opinion is the RIGHT way to think? OR – or maybe – just maybe – could it be that living in a diverse society should be about understanding each other and appreciating the nuances and the differences?
Ever notice in all of those futuristic movies and books, the ability to think for yourself has been stifled and everyone is forced to at least pretend to hold the same opinions? Usually, it’s stated that this was done in an effort to avoid any more war. Is that what we want? I think some people really think they do want this. A whole society that is forced to agree with them. But a society that is forced to all think the same really isn’t thinking at all. No opinions, no emotions, no connections.
How can we move from a disjointed society who avoid each other except for shouting out “DUMB, HATE, DUMB, HATE!” to a society of mutual respect and understanding? A society that lives out such an amazing love for each other that we can all work together to make this place better for all of our children? Wouldn’t it be great if this was the norm? To really care about each other?
On the surface, it doesn’t seem possible. It seems like we are too far gone. But we need to always remember that large societal changes have to start somewhere. We may never change the whole society, but maybe if we really work hard, we can change one little corner of it.
I would like to issue a challenge. Seek out someone who holds a different opinion than you on one of the issues listed above. One of the issues that you feel very passionately about. Sit down with them and listen to them explain why they hold that opinion. It will be difficult, but I want you to JUST LISTEN. Ask questions that help you understand their opinion. Don’t offer any counter points, don’t interrupt them when you feel that they are mistaken or just plain wrong. JUST LISTEN.
I still hold certain opinions on most of the issues I listed above. But I also have very dear friends that hold completely opposing opinions on the same issues. I understand that it’s not always about right vs. wrong. I also understand that stating opinions should be something reserved for discussions with good friends, not shouted out into the wind with the hopes of drawing a crowd or changing society. Remember, we can learn something from everyone we choose to really listen to.
Speak and listen both for the purpose of understanding.
And the next time you’re tempted to shout out your opinion to let everyone know how right you are, remember what you’re really doing is standing in a rocking chair like a three year old, scrunching your face with a s much anger as you can muster, shouting the worst words you can possibly think of: “DUMB, HATE, DUMB, HATE!”