Agreeing to Disagree in 2017

Groupthink. It’s rampant. Whether left or right, red or blue, it seems we’re increasingly drawing lines in the sand. You’re here or there. We have 140 character shouting matches. Nothing gets fleshed out and opinions are reinforced or shockingly and cruelly dismissed. As history has shown us, humans are inclined to follow a line of thought. There’s comfort in being told what to think, a sort of willingness slumber as we focus on the task at hand. Contemplate and deliberate too long and the head grows weary. It’s not personal. It’s just how we’re wired.

I have a hard time believing this sort of division is anything new. It may just feel heightened because we’re flooded with it 24 hours a day, on screens large and small, in our earpieces. This amplifies the already underlying tension of dissenting opinion, moving us farther and farther apart from one another.

Let’s call a spade a spade. The 2016 election debates were a joke. Name calling and intimidation flooded the stages. Preschoolers, by and large, have more restraint. It’s become less and less about presenting opposing perspectives and more and more about who can strike the lowest blow. We’re a far cry from the Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858.

Part of the problem is, we don’t separate the human from the ideology. We label and box. It makes us feel safe. We’re this. They’re that. But people are complex and their beliefs (and reasons for them) are equally so. When we refuse to hear other’s opinions, we limit our own expansion. We’re keeping ourselves unnecessarily small.

I live in a very liberal enclave in West Los Angeles. I am, by and large, a state’s right’s conservative. When I say this, people look at me aghast. And then we get to talking. I realize the burden is on me to explain myself and so I do. I find the human thread. And more often than not, find more congruity with my left wing-leaning friends than one would expect. People are often surprised– then relieved– to hear my reasoning. I’m not a monster, after all. I just have a different opinion.

When did we stop talking, really talking? Is it a figment of my romanticized imagination to believe things weren’t always this marginalized? When we lose our anchor in our humanness, we lose connection. And while debate is wonderful, it’s not the endgame. Resolution is. Or at least, tacit understanding and respect.

We don’t have to agree to connect. We don’t have to think alike or vote alike or love alike. But we do have to recognize the dignity in ourselves and one another. And we have to respect that one’s political beliefs and inclinations are not the whole of who they are… and that it takes a lot more than 140 characters to find out why.

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