Election season gives us no shortage of opportunities to bite our tongues or lash our neighbors with them. We are a contentious people who cling tightly to our opinions as though we might have carried them down the mountain, after having watched a flaming heavenly finger carve them into stone.
It doesn’t even have to be election season for us to pick a fight with friends and strangers alike. The internet is alive with a veritable barrel full of trolls rabblerousing in comment threads like so many sinister older brothers with a bravado only anonymity can provide.
A friend of mine recently wrote a post on a well-trafficked Christian site about her painful divorce and the redemption she’s seen in her life since then. It still surprises me, although I don’t know why, that there’s always someone ready to knock the knees out from a person who’s already sharing raw, personal stories in public for others’ edification. And yet, there it was: straight up putrescence of a comment. The person who responded told my friend she was not redeemed, that she should read her Bible and that she was basically living in a fantasy world.
But it’s not just this one isolated incident; and we are all probably guilty of tossing off the snarky or sarcastic or hateful reply while safely ensconced in our living rooms.
I wondered on twitter last week what would happen if Americans watched both party conventions with open ears and minds. My idealism was met with the appropriate guffaws. As if. As if people could set aside their tablets of opinion, to listen to be convinced or not convinced. But to listen.
The whole thing is enough to make a person feel like she needs a bath, and then a bath chaser.
Then something happened to pierce a tiny hole in the filth.
In light of the “legitimate rape” thing and subsequent political comments, I continued to post to twitter a variety of links to these little nuggets.
A twitter friend challenged my opinion, with her own valid opinions. She was kind, open and clear. I wrote back calmly and also kindly. She did not alienate me, and I did not alienate her. We had an actual dialogue about abortion, rape, women’s rights, all in a few short moments on twitter.
Now, I know we didn’t solve the problems of the universe. I know we, neither of us, changed our minds. But, at the conclusion of that conversation, which is worth more than a few mid-day tweets, I felt like I had been heard, and I felt that I had listened.
In the noise of discord and debate, we practiced the art of dialogue; we took turns, and did not write to convince but to unpack the discourse, to peel back the politics and see the faces of those affected.
It’s not much, but it’s a start.