So this thing just happened. People I know from a church I used to attend held a fundraiser to fight childhood cancer. The corporation that was hosting them is known for philanthropic giving in regards to children’s health, so yay them. Also, this corporation was matching the money these people were raising dollar for dollar. Also, yay. These are all good things, and I want to make sure I am clear on this. Money raised to fight cancer = good! Here’s the problem, in three easy steps.
1) The company is McDonalds, which serves some of the least healthy food-like products on the planet and is a corporate behemoth that does everything possible to increase its profits, no matter the cost to the world or its customers. This information is out there on the internet if anyone cares to look (or ask me and I’ll provide links), but my family won’t go to McDonalds unless we have no other choice. My opposition to this company is so strong that, if I’ve been in a McDonalds 10 times in the last 25 years, I’d be shocked.
2) I made a poorly-worded comment about this on Facebook: “I don’t want to offend anyone, but trying to stop cancer at a McDonalds is pretty much like trying to prevent hearing loss at a Megadeath concert. McDonalds serves food that *causes* cancer!”
3) People equated my less-than glowing review of the situation as my personal attack on their efforts to fight childhood cancer, resulting in name-calling, derogatory comments on my intelligence and intentions, and even the dreaded “un-friending” of me by a long-time friend on Facebook.
I have since posted a public apology, but in the eyes of those people, I have now been demonized. I carry a taint that can never be erased. I have ceased to be an *us* and become a *them*. I am outsider. I am unclean.
In America today, discussion and discourse are for all intents and purposes dead. Not one of the people on that Facebook post asked me to clarify my comment, or gave me a chance to discuss what I meant in detail. None of them actually wanted a discussion, I suspect, because that involves possibly being challenged on a belief they hold dear. I don’t really want to put words in anyone’s mouth, but since they aren’t talking to me, my brain struggles to fill in the blanks.
I am so terrified that our country has resorted to the social equivalent of slaughtering each other in the streets. Yes, my comment was ill-conceived and badly worded. Yes, I should have done something different that what I did. Yes, I am very sorry. But people say stupid stuff all the time. If I had to stop associating with people just because they did something that offends me, I’d live in a shack in the woods and never talk to anyone. This is serious, people! We are feeding on ourselves, socially, in some twisted version of Facebook Piranha. Worse yet, we are failing to have the sort of deep conversations that challenge our beliefs and sharpen our minds. You want to know why we are falling behind academically in the world? You want to know why children from dozens of countries outperform us on a wide range of academic tasks? It’s because we don’t think, we react.
When faced with a challenging situation, most Americans don’t try to understand what’s happening. Instead, they have an emotional reaction and respond based on that emotion. You do it. I do it. We all do it, with few exceptions. Here are some increasingly absurd examples of this type of thinking. If someone cuts you off in traffic, they must be an idiot instead of a worried parent trying to get home to their child. If someone says something that offends you on Facebook, they must be an ass or an attention-seeker instead of someone scared for the damage being done to himself and others. If someone holds different political views than you, they must be uninformed or, worse yet, stupid instead of someone who has weighed the evidence and made a careful decision. If a leader makes a mistake, they must be totally incompetent, and should be fired.
Look, people are complex. People do things for many reasons. People are, honestly, very much like you. But they aren’t identical to you, and it’s well worth your time to seek the middle-ground. We can’t keep judging each other this way. To do so will lead to madness, or to a circle of friends that only agrees with what you already believe to be true. The Founding Fathers of the United States would be horrified (though not, I suspect, surprised) to see the way we treat other Americans in 2014. They bent over backwards to reach compromises that have made us the most powerful nation in the world. Just imagine what would have happened if those great men had refused to seek compromise, and had instead resorted to calling each other names. Where would we be now?
So I challenge you, dear reader, just as I challenge myself: Do something every day that involves compromise, or involves getting to know another person’s views better. It’s the American thing to do, it’s the Christian thing to do, and it’s the right thing to do.