When I read, watch or listen to anyone expressing an opinion, I’m like any other listener. I want to know “what’s motivating this person?” Are they trying to be persuasive or do they delight in belittling someone?
I think I pay just as much attention to a person’s tone as their opinion. Because the way you say something can completely overshadow what you say. “You’re the best” means one thing with a sincere voice, something totally different with sarcasm.
I have this space to fill each week with an opinion. So, I read other opinions, not only thinking about a person’s view on an issue, but I have the added thought: Is this something I want to mimic? Sometimes, absolutely yes. Sometimes, oh, heck no!
There’s that old saying about opinions. You know the one. Opinions are everywhere and easy to have, but saying a thing right feels difficult, like trying to jump off something tall and land in a balanced way. I write all the time, but I feel satisfied that I’ve gotten it just “right” very rarely, if ever. But I try pretty hard, too. So there’s that. And when I observe our sea of societal opinions, I’m so struck by the belligerent desperation in so many voices. People seem unaware or unconcerned about their tone and how it will undermine their persuasiveness. If you want to know my motivation, my bias, my agenda, well, it’s fundamentally not to be “that!” I don’t want to be a constantly angry person who seems locked in their bitter tunnel vision, unable to see a bigger picture. I don’t like the hatefulness that soaks so much of our public discourse. I don’t like the daily tug of war of belittlement or the glib beauty contest of snarky put-downs. I may disagree with you, but if I scream at you, will you come to see my viewpoint as reasonable? Will you change your mind? Um, no. Of course, not. And vice-versa.
If you go back and you spend time with old U.S. texts with debates on matters of long-ago days, you’ll probably be struck, as I am, with how profoundly impressive the language is. I’ve read some passages recently from the Civil War era, and even the abhorrent opinions are eloquently written, which somehow makes them more abhorrent at times.
I’m thinking of this, because every era has its particular climate of public expression. It may lean toward civility and appeals to reason. It may lean toward emotion and hatreds. It’s never completely one way or the other, but public discourse can definitely lean hard in a direction. And while there are all sorts of ills in our society, all kinds of issues, my brain frequently conjures that strange-voiced prison warden in “Cool Hand Luke,” who tells Paul Newman’s character: “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” We surely do. What we’ve got here (in America) is a failure to communicate.
Part of that is because we feel unheard in the great chaos of information. So we all scream at once, as if this is going to change things for the better. It’s pretty much impossible to badger someone into some ideological conversion experience to your viewpoint, though that seems to be a common goal.
But I frequently really enjoy another person’s thoughts when they aren’t desperate to convert me to a new viewpoint or ideology. I like reading material that just adds some depth to what’s in my brain, some other angle of seeing. It is absolutely no fun to have an extended conversation with some wild-eyed guy trying to sell you a used car you don’t want. But a conversation about cars with someone who just likes talking cars and isn’t trying to sell you one, well, that’s a different and often enjoyable experience. I think that’s true in all facets of life, politics, too.
I also like reading opinions on tough issues that contemplate a better world. It’s easy to go all doomsday. And I frequently do in my own mind and sometimes in this space. Right now, I’m primarily interested in some good ways out of our predicaments that don’t involve shooting others. If political discussions lead to you to conclude that you need to harm others, then you have fundamentally slipped as a human, whatever your political viewpoint. We’ve seen the world take such paths. We truly need to avoid that mistake now. I’m writing this on MLK Day and thinking of our scary national climate. There’s so much hate right now. We need to communicate with decency, not with ill intent. Not with guns or hate.
We just don’t have to be that way. In a sense, it’s really simple. That thing that takes hold, well, it will hurt you, too, if you let it. Anger is obviously the right reaction to many events. There’s so much wrong in the world. But anger isn’t license to negate the humanity of others, to see them as “scum” or (insert worse adjectives). When anger turns into this, it becomes a real ailment. Hate transforms the hater, not the hated. It works as mental cancer, eating at the core of a person. Hatred seems almost like a physical characteristic in some people, something that just seeps out of them like a mist they can’t escape. Love can be the same way in reverse. Some people seem to exude love.
Our country is in a fix. And we have a lot that needs attention. We will battle over ideas, just like we always have. But we seem to be at a kind of tipping point. And it feels important to remember simple things to keep us grounded. I think these two things are true:
The spirit of hate is a losing cause.
The spirit of love is victory.