Above are three stickers that I have displayed just under the screen in my classroom. The middle one, in particular captures my thoughts on this Tuesday. For Tuesdays my theme to focus on is Government and Politics. Hardly anything going on in that realm these days. 😉
In the Avett Brothers song Ten Thousand Words they sing “ain’t it like most people, I’m no different, we love to talk on things we don’t know about.” In teaching class and in general conversation it’s more and more common for me to hear disparaging remarks about individuals without any consideration. It’s rote. Almost programmed. The free speech that we hold so dear, that allows us to form our own opinions and thoughts, seems to be governed by responses created for us. Tested. Marketed. And it’s increasingly negative and destructive.
It is difficult enough to participate in productive conversation with folks on a local level–even though as I will argue below that should be our focus. It’s tricky because as humans we have a penchant for distortion and distraction. Sometimes even deception. I don’t think it is always a conscious effort, but we seem–or I seem–to have a powerful subconscious drive to protect our/my own ego. To maintain some semblance of balance and harmony with ourselves. And so even with people with whom we have relationships, kinship, it requires intention, care, forgiveness, and grace to sift through the flaws in our humanity and move closer to understanding.
But as a people we are drawn ever more towards the national conversation–whatever that phrase is supposed to mean. We are focused on only a few topics that are filtered through mass media. A mass media that on the one hand is owned by fewer and fewer entities, and on the other the social platforms that we are only beginning to wrap our heads around–and likely will continue to evolve like Covid variants such that once we get our heads around the pros and cons of the platforms we will still be a step or five behind.
To be clear. Types are helpful. Generalizations serve a purpose. There are patterns that emerge in and through history and we would be unwise to neglect those patterns. Instead we should engage with those patterns and learn about our successes, repent for our grave human error, and move forward with analysis and synthesis.
But resting in generalization is sin. Not recognizing individuality and the unique nature of each human is wrong. It has become so easy for us to make up our minds about other humans that we have never even met. So easy for us to put someone in a category based off of one comment or whatever books they read or what they post or don’t post or whatever political party they may be affiliated with. We get wrapped up in this so called national conversation, equipped with whatever the latest sound byte or meme that has been generated for us, with an air of superiority and sense of control over the vast amount of information and complexity over whatever issue. It doesn’t seem very healthy.
Instead, I believe that for our national conversation to thrive, our local conversation must be our focus. Place and history and community and relationship. These things provide good soil for productive and progressive thought. Thought steeped in an abiding sense of identity. Thought that deals honestly with the harsh reality of type and generalization, but that works hard to move through those things and out the other side.
Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time.[Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone. Col 4:5-6
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.