Tuesday, August 20, 2013


... It goes both ways.

And it needs to stop.  Because it hurts us all.  It hurts the hated, the hater, and our whole society.

Here are two stories, which were told to me by two very reliable, very good, very compassionate people.

1.  The first story was told to me by a close friend from the San Francisco Bay Area.  This man has a friend who is a lesbian.  She is married to a lady and they have a child.  For quite a while, they lived in San Francisco, and all was well.  They then moved, in order to be closer to their places of employment.  Since they have lived in their new neighborhood, their tires have been slashed, because of their sexual orientation and their non-traditional family.

2.  The second story was told to me by a close friend from Southern California.  During the Proposition 8 campaign, there was a family who lived in an area that is considered to be rather progressive.  This family had a sign in their front yard, supporting Proposition 8.  And they had their tires slashed. 

Now, I know I am old.  I know I am non-confrontational.  I also like everybody, whatever their opinions may be, as long as they are good people.  What is a good person?  To me, a good person is someone of good-will, someone who is honest and trustworthy.  A good person is someone who treats others well, no matter what the color, creed, sexual orientation, or political perspective of those "others" might be.  A good person has humility.  A good person is compassionate and charitable, striving to overcome the innate selfishness that most of us possess.  I like to be surrounded by these types of people, and I have found them amongst both conservatives and progressives.

And it seems that there are also "haters" amongst both conservatives and progressives.  This just makes me sad.  The thing is, though, there always have been and always will be "haters."  So, what can the rest of us "non-haters" do, in order to overcome this hatred, in order to minimize its impact on our culture?

One thing we can do is learn how to have a discussion.  Please know that I am not claiming to be an expert in having discussions.  But, there are things I have learned along the way to being 50 years old.  Many of these things I learned in the five years I spent at San Francisco State University.  You can learn a lot from going to a school where most of the people are different than you are in their religious/political ideas.  It was quite a beneficial experience for me.  One of the most important lessons I learned was that I didn't have to be afraid of those who were different than I.  I was treated very well and with respect in my interactions with people, even people with whom I had disagreements about various issues.  I also found that most people, on both sides of the fence and everywhere in-between, were interested in achieving the same goals -- goals rooted in the idea of human dignity.  Most of the differences of opinion arose in how to achieve those goals.

So, for whatever it's worth, these are things I have learned about having a discussion.  Do I, myself, always remember to abide by these guidelines?  No.  I misstep plenty of times.  But, I do find that things generally work out better when I follow these principles.  And, no, these ideas probably won't work with true "haters" -- but, I hope most people don't fall into that category.

First of all, in a discussion, assume that the other person is someone of good-will, someone who actually wants to see authentically good things happen in our world, in our country, in our communities, and in our families.

Secondly, don't look at the other person as your "enemy," but rather as a fellow human being, worthy of being treated with respect and dignity.

Third.  Listen.  Really and truly listen to the opinions of the other person.  Try to understand those opinions and where they come from.  Try to find areas of agreement, instead of automatically "jumping on" areas of disagreement.

Fourth. When speaking, don't only give your own opinion, but tell the other person what you like about his/her opinion.  And speak gently.

Fifth.  Be sincere.  You are not there to "shine the other person on," so that he/she will come around to your "correct" way of thinking. 

And my final point, which is related to what I just said, is:  Don't have it as your goal to "win."  It should not be your goal to show that you are right and that the other person is wrong.  It should not be your goal to change the other person's mind.  Your goal should be to make a respectful connection with another person, a connection that might yield some good fruits in our culture.

Now, you may be thinking, "This sounds nice, but it won't actually get anything concrete accomplished.  It's just all touchy-feely, nicey-nicey, hippie thinking."  Perhaps.  But, unless we can start with this, how can we ever come to answers that will yield a better society.  Force probably won't work, even the force of law.  Because if most (and I mean way more than 52% of people) don't believe in an idea, they probably won't respect a law which strives to enforce said idea.  Snarky comments, rude jokes, and name-calling aren't going to yield any concrete solutions, either.  They may feel good, but they usually aren't very effective in building a civil society -- one that is truly based on equality, freedom, and justice for all.

Oh.  One final thought about discussions.  Try to keep a sense of humor, especially -- most especially -- about yourself, your opinions, and your "side."


  1. good advice.
    I also think that radio talk show hosts have done a lot of damage to civility in discussion.
    Ironically, they're probably polite in real life but their jobs depend on ratings... and what better way to get ratings than by stirring people up with fear tactics and/or demonizing opponents?

    1. Totally agree, Sue. I always appreciate your comments.

  2. Sounds like common sense, but it's surprisingly uncommon these days. There are so many examples that I can think of lately, where people think that in order to be committed to an ideology, that they have to tear apart anyone who happens to disagree with them. I currently live in south Orange County, an area which I found to be unexpectedly conservative, and I'm surrounded by people who constantly express their disgust at homosexuals. I don't chime in to agree with their declamations, so they start being suspicious as to what my political views are and ask what I think, and I say 'I don't think we should judge these people. Yes, the lifestyle is wrong, but I think they need our love above all else, not criticism. We need to look at why these people are making these decisions and think they have no other option.' Well, that's not good enough for the Calvary Chapel and Saddleback attendees I've been talking to, who start talking about the spawn of Satan and how the gays are unequivocally evil. They tell me that if I agree with the Pope that we must love the homosexuals that I am not a true Christian, etc. I understand that they think they are protecting their families and being faithful to God by saying such things, but I don't see it as promoting dialogue or accord in the least.

    Another example that's made me sad lately is the story of the autistic boy in the Toronto area, whose family received a hate letter telling them that they should have their child euthanized because he was embarrassing and disgusting (http://www.buzzfeed.com/hnigatu/the-incredibly-offensive-letter-sent-to-a-mother-with-an-aut). In response to this, I see people all over my Facebook feed saying things like 'whoever wrote this should have their own children taken away from them', 'should we buy them a Third Reich flag? Dirty Nazis', 'let's go mow a swastika in their front yard'. I think most people will probably disagree with me on this, but I think this kind of reaction is its own kind of hate speech. Yes, the person who wrote the letter was wrong and misguided, but if you look at what they say, they sound like someone who's just ignorant and afraid, lashing out against what they don't understand. Actually, what they're saying about this young boy who's developmentally disabled is a lot like what I hear conservative Christians saying about homosexuals.

    I can understand being uncomfortable around people who are disabled, or imbalanced, or gay, or in any kind of situation where things aren't "right". But because things aren't right, we need to make the distinction between the person having a problem, and the person being the problem. Why can't people realize we need to cut the name-calling and passive-aggressive tactics and learn to treat each other like human beings deserving of respect? If this "pissed off mother" is not allowed to say that being around this child freaks her out, why do so many Christians think they are allowed to say that about the gay community?

    1. You make excellent points. Thank-you for your comments. I appreciate them. :)