We all yearn to live in unity and lots of us seem to think that disputes won’t happen because we are trying to be ‘nice Christians’ or ‘tolerant’ or ‘woke’.
But we do disagree on lots of things from personal taste to political attitudes to ethical issues. It is inevitable that my cultural upbringing in urban Sydney will give me certain views about issues from sunbathing (bad) to Aussie humour (excellent). My faith shapes my morals and ethics, as does my age and education.
On all these levels, it is healthy to have different views – it makes life more interesting and it hones my ideas to have them challenged.
But differences of viewpoint are turning into more explosive and ugly arguments, with little room for grace.
Our society tends to be more judgemental now and even though we are more global and live with 24/7 access to the latest information, we have grown defensive of OUR space and superior about anybody we don’t agree with. And because we all get our news and views curated by online algo rhythms, we seek out, and are fed, the views that agree with our own and rarely expose ourselves to different thinking.
Left leaning people are proud of being tolerant but that tolerance does not extend to religion, or conservatives, or anybody who speaks up for a non-urban activity like hunting. Right wingers say they defend family values but that does not include families in refugee camps or black teenagers on council estates.
We see our own ‘biases’ as intelligent and reasoned, but other views are emotional rants.
A study in the United States (reported in Psychology Today) shows a dramatic drop in empathy among US school children over the past three decades, alongside a dramatic increase in narcissism. Narcissists fail to help others, unless there is immediate gain or recognition for themselves.
It is a ‘dark trait’ linked to bullying and Machiavellian behaviour.
Maybe, the decline of Christian values in the West means we think only of our own needs – we are the centre of our universe. The biggest life rules Jesus gave us were to love God – which puts life’s problems and victories into an eternal perspective; and to love others as much as we love ourselves – which gives us a healthy view of our own worth and reminds us that our family and neighbours deserve compassion and respect.
How then can we hold our views and stand for truth, yet recognise the views of others and disagree well?
Walk around in another person’s shoes Empathy is a key ingredient of wisdom. One of my favourite books is To Kill A Mockingbird. The dad, Atticus, is wise, kind, and empathetic as a parent and as a lawyer. He tells his son Jem, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
Seek out reliable facts When I was doing regular political campaigning, statistics were a favourite way of seeming knowledgeable, but they can be confusing and in the hands of a wily politician, downright dishonest. The More or Less podcast explores statistics – have a listen. You do not have to be a Maths geek.
Avoid stereotyping and the sort of faulty logic that says, Jerry Falwell Jr is a hypocrite about sex, Falwell is a conservative Christian and a Republican, therefore all conservative Christians and Republicans are hypocrites.
On the other side of the cultural spectrum, conservative commentators have been keen to report on the toxic bullying of staff by Ellen DeGeneris, who has built her TV career on being kind and empathetic. As if all liberals must be fakes.
Extrapolating from one flawed person to the whole group that idolises them, is tempting but dangerous. We can get a bit gleeful when the self-righteous are exposed, but stereotypes quickly slip into being inaccurate and damaging.
Avoid blaming In these strange times of Covid, #metoo and #BLM, we should lament and feel pain; but have you noticed how quick we are to blame? We can hold power to account without braying for revenge or getting into “cancel culture”.
This balance is so hard. But let us be people of hope, standing for truth but avoiding being judgemental.
In the Bible account of Jesus, some religious leaders were keen to punish a woman who had been caught having sex with a man who was not her husband. They were swift to blame and punish (the man in the equation was nowhere to be seen).
Jesus did not apportion blame – he simply reminded the men (and us) that truth and justice blend with mercy and empathy to produce wisdom.