Care To Meet Me On The Bridge?

We are a complicated people. Sometimes, in order to feel in control when things are out of control, when we long to feel belonging, to feel safe, we seek out those we can relate to. Those we agree with.

And sometimes, when we encounter the ones with whom we don't agree, we instinctively view them as a threat. If we can place those “others” into a category of "different", we might feel safe again. Supported. Understood. That is a natural desire.

But maybe there's a way to remain open to the nuances of human beings, to the complexity of these unprecedented and extremely challenging times. Maybe there's a better way to bridge the seemingly growing divide and converse with people all over the opinion-experience-spectrum.

First, I think we can all agree that this pandemic is awful. In different ways for different reasons, it is just awful. Globally, we are in this rocky, nausea-inducing, leaking, awful boat. Together. Even though we're experiencing different swells and storms, we are still stuck in the damn boat. (Did I say how awful it is? IT IS!)

Second, the political atmosphere in the US is stressful. Whether you align right or left or a blend of the two (transparency here - this is where I find myself most of the time), if you check Facebook or Twitter or the awful news, it feels like there's no tolerating the other side. The name-calling and bullying is so so mean and so so common. I think the more we ingest this kind of media, we fall victim to believing this is the way we're supposed to act. I want to challenge that. 

Third, I find that many people perpetuate division of thought, of culture, of conviction because (back to the beginning) we want to feel like we belong to something. But do you ever feel like the thing (party, policy, cause) you're aligning yourself to doesn't fully represent all of your experiences and beliefs? If no, you don't need to read on. You might just get annoyed. 

But if you find yourself in the middle on some things, maybe you have opinions that cross the aisle, things can get complicated. Where can we have those conversations? Or should I say, is there a place for our voices to be heard and not dismissed because we're not fully supportive of one side? 

I think there is. And I think it's our job to bravely and kindly protect it. But first, we must acknowledge that life and issues and people are complex. And then we need to be prepared to have some hard conversations, because what we're attempting keeps us from the shelter and consensus of an absolute view.

Here are some things I've learned talking to friends and family who lately find themselves in the middle on all sorts of issues. They are meant to spark reflection and challenge our personal biases. We all have 'em, and they can make us nasty. But we're going to stay nice and open, right? Here goes.

We can willingly wear a mask and desperately want things to go back to normal. We can follow the science and acknowledge that we're living in a science experiment, each of us witnessing the scientific method in real-time. (If you don't remember that from middle and high school, Google it. Or ask a teenager.) We can be frustrated with politicians and medical experts whose opinions differ and change, and we can also follow health orders, which might also differ and change. We can be hopeful about treatments that have shown success and are being researched, and also be skeptical of agenda-driven messages on YouTube.   
We can want our kids to go back to school and also stay positive about distance learning. We can assert that better learning and overall well-being happens on campus, and also fiercely desire for teachers and school personnel and kids to be safe. We can admit the data is still being gathered and get excited about studies that show promise. We can adapt our opinions when new data is presented. (This is not easy...try it. Ouch. But it gets easier with practice. Trust me.)
We can affirm Black Lives Matter and also support the commitment of police to protect and serve. We can believe that not all BLM advocates are violent looters and not all cops are racist killers. We can see the immediate need for police reform and also the great need for law and order. We can cheer and mourn the toppling of a statue. 

We can love our country and disapprove of some of the people running it. We can be patriots even if we don't agree with the President. We can value personal freedoms and care for our world during a pandemic. We can seek out ways to correct inequities within our systems and also preserve the foundational values of equality, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. 

We can call for an end to human trafficking and pedophilia, and question the legitimacy of pizzagate and Hollywood pedo-rings. We can be interested in and weary of conspiracy theories. We can (and should) seek out information and be aware that lies can be very convincing. We can support legitimate causes with goals to end human trafficking and pedophile rings, and still be a fan of Forrest Gump. 

We can responsibly and respectfully engage in social media with regard to current events. (Do they still  debate current events in school? That was my favorite part of social studies. People need to learn or re-learn those skills, I think.) 

We can read articles before sharing, check source bias and our personal biases. We can avoid bullying in the comments section and stand up against it. We can present ourselves as decent and compassionate humans instead of always being right. 

You guys, cancel culture is all over the internet. It's all over the news, doesn't matter what side you align with. And the current tone might make you think that the people who don't agree with you, especially when we think they behave badly, aren't even worthy of simple decency. (Be honest. Have you ever felt that way? Did social media have any influence?) But cancelling out the WHOLE PERSON because there's something you don't like - an opinion, a mistake, a flaw - is very, very dangerous. It might make you feel vindicated for the cruel post you liked/shared. It might make you feel safe, even superior, or right. 

But it ignores one very important fact from the equation: we are each human beings, created by a loving God, blessed with this one life to impact the world and people around us. Positively. (And if you don't believe in a God, the sentence still works.)

So, what kind of world do you want to be a part of creating? What can we do about the divide? Here are some things I've learned lately that help me navigate these trying issues:

REFLECT. What behaviors and attitudes are you sharing with those around you? Are you proud? Are you harsh? Are you having challenging conversations? Are you willing to make a phone call and explain why something bothered you before losing a friend? Are you choosing kindness? Showing grace? Are you cancelling people that you've known and loved? (This is hard work. If you try this exercise and immediately hear your inner self say "Well, she started it..." there's more work to do. Call me. We can do the hard work together.) 

What are your family, community, social circle talking about these days? More importantly, how are they talking? Nasty memes? Name-calling? Us vs. them-ing? It feels good to find common disgust for the "others" doesn't it? To be attracted to those who confirm your own viewpoint. But do you want to pay the price for that? Are you willing to drive people away with righteousness? Because they hold an opinion that  differs from yours? Do you know who you might lose? (And honestly, sometimes it's healthy to let people go. But maybe the relationship is worth a call. Can you give them a chance to learn and understand your point of view? UGH...More hard conversations!) 

THINK CRITICALLY. There's a lot going on friends. And social media and mainstream media are following the algorithms. Because when you click, when you share, when you watch, THEY MAKE MONEY. The madder the headlines make you, the more money they make. The more you share, especially misinformation, they make money. (Did you know that if a news outlet lies but you clicked on the article, they don't lose the revenue even when they recant a few days later? Read that again.) So, if you don't want to be used in this way, there are plenty of places to find facts and not opinion. And I promise you, CNN and FOX news are not it.

Reuters, Associated Press, BBC and NPR News (not opinion), are the least politically biased and most reliably sourced news outlets. If you try them out, you will immediately realize how different real news is. You might also be annoyed at the extent to which you've been manipulated by those you previously trusted.

I will warn you though, you won't find people slinging insults if you're looking for that. In fact, you will probably find out that things that had you incensed, things that had you polishing your pitchforks, were not entirely true. 

The exaggeration and misinformation, even straight-out lies, happen in all the biased news outlets, on both sides. RIGHT and LEFT, friends. But not as much in the middle. You won't find as many flashy and controversial headlines in non-biased news. Soooo...what you end up sharing on your feed will actually turn out to be more responsible and respectful. You will be perpetuating real news. (There is still such a thing as that. It's just not as popular.) 

Back to my point...almost done. Thanks for sticking with me.

BE KIND. The election will be over in November. Covid-19 will continue to evolve. The call for social justice and police reform will be negotiated between lawmakers and communities. And we will remain, sharing the space of this great country with people and ideas that are diverse and nonetheless worthy. 

If we do these things: reflect, think critically, and be kind, we can care for each other and respect each other, even when we see things differently. Perhaps we can even seek out someone who has a different point of view with the aim to truly understand, not to persuade. When we do that, we cross the bridge from painful divisiveness to beautiful relationships. 

And if you want to chat, I promise, I'm a safe space. You won’t find mud-slinging here. You won’t find condemnation here. You won’t find hatred here. What you will find is an openness to accept and appreciate our differences. What you will find is respect and humanity and love.
Because those are things worth sharing. Care to meet me on the bridge?

Peace and love to you.

Photo cred: Joel Vodell on Unsplash
Holly and Jenn


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