Doing Dialogue 10

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.

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10 thoughts on “Doing Dialogue

  • Kelly Kinkaid

    I had a similar conversation on Facebook from a family friends of Akins. It was nice to be able to have a civil discourse, and quite honestly I have more than those than I have the other type of conversations. I think I’ve been lucky. But my luck is why I find it silly for people to want to never have political conversations on the social media venues. I mean their social. And isn’t social about conversation?

  • Ed_Cyzewski

    I feel like I could type, and type, and type in response to this. I suppose what’s most important at the end of the day is that we feel understood and valued to a certain degree.

  • HopefulLeigh

    Love, love, love this, Jen. I’m trying to be mindful of even the tone of articles that I share on-line. I want my social media self to radiate openness to civil dialogue. So while I had quite a reaction to last night’s speech, I tried to figure out what was at the heart of it and I didn’t type any of that out on Twitter. I want to move discussion forward, not perpetuate what each party decries about the other. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve had great (face to face) discussions with friends who hold different opinions from me and that gives me great hope for this election season.

    • Jennifer Luitwieler

      Leigh, I try to do a good job of editing myself, but I can always improve. Our choices are to be quiet, which might be fine in some circumstances, to yell, or to be kind. We don’t have to post every thought we’ve ever had or every link we’ve ever liked.

  • Angela Jones

    Lately, because of the looming election, I have been enjoying a very civil (private) discourse with a good friend. He and I disagree on almost every issue ideologically but we like each other personally. We respect one another and at the heart of our discourse is a friendship. I think that helps. The problem with engaging in political dialogue on FB or other social media is that there is not usually a recognition of the other person’s history, journey or humanity. So, it’s easier to label and stereotype and make unkind rebuttals.

    • Jennifer Luitwieler

      Great point. Or, if we are aware, we neglect to consider the other’s markedly different shoes, Angela. When we put relationship first, we’re bound to be more pleasant. I think, too, it’s good to have friends like that, because they ask us to see a different side of the issue that a stranger who is shouting might not be able to convey.

  • kt_writes

    The art of dialogue and seeing the real faces behind the politics—it’s an amazing start, friend! I know just what you mean about that need for a bath. There’s SO much grimy talk going on out there. I wish I had read this post before I wrote my own yesterday about the lack of respect and regard many have when we shoot out words from behind our electronic platforms and devices. What my post is lacking, yours has—an example of how online dialogue can indeed edify if we’re willing to take the time to do it right.

  • Esther Emery

    Listening is hard. I’ve heard that it’s harder on twitter than in person, but I don’t know if I believe it. I think it’s just hard all the time, and there is always a temptation to just hang out with people who already agree with you. I celebrate your willingness to be present in the tension of a disagreement, and am glad you’re telling the tale.