My son reminded me it is called click-bait, those headlines you see on articles on social media as well as news sites that may or may not have anything to do with actual news, the actual story, even reality for that matter. They are designed to incite or at least elicit an emotion from you. Often times I even find myself tempted to be pissed off just at the headline, form an opinion, and make a judgement without even reading the actual article or other news sources. I have learned the hard way too many times regarding these often incendiary tags, and, well, the key word is bait.
It feeds that notion of us against them, I’m right you’re wrong, and what I have said for a long time now our society and culture’s incessant need to be right, and to be right at someone else expense. It is like a drug, we are addicted to it and there are times I am as guilty as the next one, but not unlike any addict often it takes admitting we have a problem before we can begin working on a solution and unfortunately I think this is going to be a long cure if we can cure it at all. Our politics and religion especially have created a black and white world, an either or world, a world that we believe can only be seen as a dichotomy rather than a place where many solutions, opinions, and ideas can be entertained simultaneously for the good of all of us.
Just look at the headlines in our so-called news, I would say rather in our sound bite world where we really prefer to let some commentator, talking head do our research and study for us rather than doing the work and finding out the facts for ourselves. All we have to do is look at the state of this so-called news. Pro-Life vs Pro-Choice, Gun Control vs Second Amendment Supporters, Freedom of Religion vs Really Freedom of Religion, Religiously Based Laws vs Separation of Church and State, Christians vs Lesbian Gay Bi-sexual Transgender Queer persons, Religion vs Religion, Religion vs Non-Religious, Negotiation and Diplomacy vs Military Action and War, Livable Wage vs Mega-Wealth, Assistance for the Poor vs Cutting Funding, Poverty, Healthcare, Understanding vs Bigotry, Violence vs Peace, the list goes on and on.
Of course in my belief and philosophical framework there are a good many of these that for me are black and white. I mean after all, how could someone disagree with me, right? (I hope you hear the sarcasm in that) Ultimately though, if we are ever going to make progress and find any sense of peace, nonviolence, lower anxiety, and a way forward we have to begin changing this dichotomous thinking of ours and come to the table to begin talking, really talking AND listening, really listening!
But it seems we are locked in our opinions and unwilling to budge. Edwin Friedman speaks of this kind of gridlock in his writings A Failure of Nerve when he says,
A characteristic of gridlocked relationship systems as either/or, black-or-white, all-or-nothing ways of thinking that eventually restrict the options of the mind. Such intense polarization also is always symptomatic of underlying emotional processes rather than of the subject matter of the polarizing issue. Anyone who has been part of an imaginatively gridlocked relationship system knows that more learning will not, on its own, automatically change the way people see things or think. There must first be a shift in the emotional processes of that institution. In order to imagine the unimaginable, people must be able to separate themselves from the surrounding emotional processes before they can even begin to see (or hear) things differently. One must have a continual search for new answer to old questions rather than an effort to re-frame the questions themselves. Innovations are new answers to old questions; paradigm shifts re-frame the question, change the information that is important, and generally eliminate previous dichotomies.
Perhaps we are in the midst of a paradigm shift of thought and existence and are still clinging to old ways of thinking and believing. As Friedman says, Paradigm shifts re-frame the question, change the information that is important, and generally eliminate previous dichotomies. One must have a continual search for new answer to old questions. Continuing to use the same old arguments, again and again from both sides of an issue will never find consensus and collaboration. My way or the highway has rarely if ever, especially on emotional issues such as many of the ones we are wrestling with now, come to a point where the solution is good for all. There are more than two ways to look at most anything.
We must as a society and culture, we must as a church find a way forward that addresses the needs and rights of all our citizens and members in a just, compassionate, humble, and nonviolent way. A Way that does not do soundbite band aides that just kick the issue down the road for our kids and grand kids to try and find a way. This is difficult work, it will take all of us individually and collectively to come to the table in a civil, respectful, and compassionate frame of mind or we will be doomed to continue repeating the same old, tired, worn out vitriol language that only causes us to dig our heels in deeper.
I encountered a book in my doctoral work this past June that I appreciated deeply and hopefully will one day be able to use much of its wisdom and knowledge. Juana Bordas’, Salsa, Soul, and Spirit, Leadership for a Multicultural Age, in the section entitled, I is Contained in We writes,
I and we are not a dichotomy. I is intrinsic to the We orientation – individuals must be strong for the collective to thrive. We do not have to choose one or the other. This concept of both/and rather than either/or is a thread that runs through collectivist cultures. Because they are more tightly woven, there is a wholeness in which many things, including differences, can exist at once. The challenge is to balance communal good with individual gain – to reach the higher ground of interdependence, here personal gain is not achieved at the expense of the common good.
We must find a way to move ahead with grace and compassion not only in our world and country, but in the church and in our inter-religious relationships. It grieves me to see so much anger and violence in our world. It breaks my heart to think this is the world I am apt to leave behind for my grandchildren, all our children and grandchildren. I am committed to find a way, I pray you will join me.
Perhaps just the ramblings of a weary soul ready once again to take a stand for all that is just and compassionate. My writing and my speaking are my tools, I pray for the strength of the Divine to raise me, raise us all up into a better place, a better world, that is nurtured, shaped, and guided not by the superficial bait of me vs you, us vs them, but the depths of we together, coming to an open table of community working for the common good of all, of all.
Light and Love – Kent H. Little