Embracing Those Who Disagree -- Because They Embrace You

2015 did not start off how any of us would have liked. No one or at least I hope no one that would read this blog would want to see anyone killed for speaking their mind, no matter what it was that was being said, even if they disagreed.

On the same day that the Charlie Hebdo killings happened in Paris, a small, ultimately unsuccessful bomb was set next to the NAACP Offices in Colorado Springs. Thankfully, the individual who placed that bomb was inept. Following each event were two very different outcomes and two very different media responses.

On social media, I questioned why the professional media reacted so differently to each event as well as pointing out what seemed to me like a sudden interest in foreign affairs that is typically lacking in day to day American discourse. I wanted to know why that was and honestly, I felt like there may be some level of racial motivation for how each story was covered but I failed in nuance and let others guess that, rather than being more direct.

What followed was a pretty intense debate back and forth between different folks from very different parts of the political spectrum -- at least on this issue. A lot of other things were brought up -- not just responses to the initial comment I lobbed out onto the internet. It was pointed out in one comment that, other than the severity of the attack, journalists would most likely cover a story about other journalists getting killed than a story where no one was harmed. I found myself pretty embarrassed that I had not thought of that and to me, it makes the most sense: journalists should naturally want to cover a story where many of their own were killed.

After spending a few days thinking about both the bombings and the follow on reactions as well as a heated series of social media interactions, I recognized my own privilege of having connections in the world that counter, challenge, and disagree with my own opinions and understanding of the world. The same people who challenge me and who, for one reason or another continue to communicate with me and be my friends despite our differences are folks for which I have some level of shared interest, history and most importantly hopes for mutual success in life. I also think we learn from each other.

We've all either shared a significant amount of time and experience together, through the military, growing up in the same small town, attending undergraduate or graduate studies together, playing rugby or sharing time in the outdoors -- or being recommended to one another from someone who has a shared background. As such, we're willing to disagree with each other, often hotly contest rival points and still appreciate each other at some level of humanity, no matter how much we might vociferously argue our own rightness.

I don't know how rare this kind of pluralism and embracing of contradicting viewpoints is in American daily life but it certainly feels like it is minimized more each day for the general public and certainly for our political discourse. This is a bad thing and should be reversed. It reinforces binary thought patterns that there are only two modes of thinking, your way or the wrong way. For example, if you think on issue A that the outcome should be B you are inherently part of team Blue and team Blue is bad because the right way to see issue A is with outcome C and that means you're part of team Red and team Red is always good.

There is no allowance (and I've been guilty of this) for complexity in thought or action or personality. We make it hard to work together with someone who doesn't agree with everything we do if there is any area of disagreement rather than focusing on what may exist of common ground. We are now at a point where if one side has a good idea, the other side shoots it down not because it's a bad idea but because if the other side does something good, it lessens the value of my side.

Life is not a sports match and we have to stop thinking that it is.

I don't know what all the solutions are to the prevention of future violence, though I have my own ideas and they involve embracing plurality of thought and religion, acceptance of diversity, increasing access to education and capital for all people, and well, just about everything that was used, at least in their ideal form to set the philosophical pillars of our nation. Those pillars still serve us in spite of the men and women, and over the long course of our history it has mainly been men, who have imperfectly and at times disastrously tried to put them into daily action.

That, and of course, recognizing that just because we don't agree, doesn't mean we can't, or won't, or shouldn't continue talking.