I had the best conversation about politics with my friend last night.
We had been sitting at her dining room table for a couple of hours already, lost in conversation. As we nibbled on her gluten free chocolate chip cookies, we began to discuss how polarized our society today has become.
She said to me, “You know, everybody acts like you’ve either gotta be a ‘yes’ or a ‘no,’ you can never fall in the middle. But most of the time, I’m somewhere in the middle. Like I can see and understand both sides.” It resonated with me.
While I would consider myself conservative, as I have grown and matured, I don’t feel so certain that just because a person or a program or an idea is marked with an “R” for republican that that makes it good. Life is much more nuanced than that. My friend’s words captured what I have been feeling and noticing in the world lately.
Not too long ago, I took at business trip to San Francisco. At the conference I was attending, I sat in a session on equality. Naturally, the speakers spoke from a more liberal perspective than I am used to, but what struck me most was that, at the bottom line, what they were saying was not so far off from what I believe. I realized in that moment that most of us in the world aren’t all so different. We’re just looking at things from a different perspective.
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No one believes he or she is wrong. No one believes the causes they stand for are stupid. We are all after the greater good, we just have conflicting thoughts about how to get there.
As my friend and I continued to talk, we reached a simple conclusion: We should all listen to each other and love each other. At the end of the day, it’s people first.
The truth is, no one wants an argument, and no one ever really wins in an argument. Everyone just walks away angry or no better off than they were before. Arguments just work to polarize us more. When we use our words as a weapon instead of a tool, we tear people, relationships, and progress down instead of building up.
This is exactly what Paul was talking about when he said “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Eph 4:29).
Listening to one another serves everyone involved. The one speaking feels understood and valued, and the one listening stands to learn and grow. It’s not about changing your opinion, it’s about understanding someone else’s.
If everyone thought the same, the world would not just be boring, it would be stagnant. It takes friction to move forward. I’m not suggesting that we all become neutral about everything. On the contrary, we should invest in our beliefs by enriching them through wholesome conversation with one another. But argument and controversy estrange us more and more from one another. Genuine respectful conversation, though, serves to bring us together even if we don’t walk away agreeing.
My suggestion is this: It is more beneficial to be thoughtful in conversation than argumentative. God has called us to love one another, and that doesn’t just apply to others who agree with us. Society moves forward when we engage with each other, not when we ostracize ourselves from one another.
I don’t believe this is a particularly profound idea, but, the truth is, something like this could actually change the world, or at least our individual worlds – our homes, our families, our workplaces, the communities we live in. If we set a tone for conversation over argument and value people over being right, we can change the trajectory of our society.
Offsetting the angle of a line by even a fraction of a fraction of a degree will, over time, change the entire trajectory of the line. You may start at the same place, but just a small change can wind you up in a completely different place. That’s what we’re talking about here. Just a small change in the way we approach discussing difficult topics like politics can change the trajectory of our lives and our communities. It may seem small, but if we could only see the end, we would recognize just what an impact loving people can make.