An Exercise in Self-Restraint

Today, we’re going to try a little experiment. Don’t worry; it doesn’t involve any fancy equipment. No explosives or messy chemicals, either. Just…your IMAGINATION. Are you ready?

I want you to pretend, for the next twenty-four hours, that you can’t read minds.

“Wait…what?” you might say. “Who ever said I could do that? What, do you think you’re some sort of mind-reader?”

Perhaps I should elaborate. After all, I know you’ve never claimed to be psychic. That’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m asking here is that, as you interact with other humans over the next twenty-four hours, you choose not to make assumptions about what motivates them. Particularly – and this is the hard part – when these other humans disagree with you.

Think about the people you converse with from one day to the next – neighbors, close friends, coworkers, Facebook friends, family members. You probably don’t hate most of them; if you did, you’d avoid them or unfriend them. But you maintain contact with them because, on the whole, you consider them to be decent people.

Now think about the last time you observed, or participated in, a conversation about something controversial. Chances are, things got ugly…especially if the conversation took place over the Internet. Statements of one viewpoint probably expressed veiled or open derision of not only the opposing viewpoint, but the person holding it. Why such hostility? I suspect that many of us, consciously or unconsciously, maintain certain beliefs concernings those who oppose us on issues about which we feel passionately. For example:

* Anybody who chooses not to vaccinate is an uninformed ignoramus who doesn’t care if the whole country dies of chicken pox.

* All gun-control advocates are mindless, sentimental fools who want the government to achieve total mind control of the entire citizenry.

*Homeschoolers are lazy, uneducated weirdos who hate academics and don’t care about their children’s futures.

* If you are pro-life, you are a domineering woman-hater devoid of even the tiniest spark of compassion or regard for circumstances.

* Somebody who cares about the environment is probably a brainwashed mosquito-loving tree-hugger who secretly hopes we will all be eaten by polar bears.

…and so on. You get the idea.

In case you’ve deduced that you now know where I stand on at least five hot topics, it just so happens that I randomized the examples in order to reflect some positions from my own “camp” and others from the opposite. Because I’m inscrutable like that. And, okay, because I’m an obscure blogger whose skin isn’t yet thick enough to withstand attack. (Just kidding. Mostly).

Seriously this time: the issues, for the purposes of this article, are not the issue. About some, I feel strongly; about others, I’m unsure; about the majority, I’m not willing to engage in debate. First of all, I’m a terrible debater. More importantly, I don’t want people to associate me with a certain set of political views; if, in your perception, those views overshadow my faith in Christ and my consequent love for others, then I’m doing it wrong. Finally, I find it very unlikely that debating will accomplish anything.

Call me a cynic, if you will. It wouldn’t be completely inaccurate; really, “cynic” is just an optimist’s term for a realist. But we will never all agree. Some propose that, deep down, we all agree; we just have to get to the point at which we realize it. We don’t, though. In many cases, our goals align, but we differ on how to reach those goals. In other cases, our goals aren’t even the same. Different worldviews, different priorities.

Even so, I honestly don’t think that the people who fundamentally disagree with me are horrible. In fact, I know they are not all horrible, because some of them are my friends. And when I read the comments people make in response to my friends’ stated positions on various topics…or when I read vicious indictments against everybody who espouses a particular ideology, knowing that I have other friends who ostensibly fit that category…my stomach muscles constrict and I feel the way I did when I was a kid watching a friend get yelled at by an angry grownup.

Don’t get me wrong; I realize that, for every generalization I listed above, there exist hundreds of people who truly do fit the descriptions scornfully assigned to them by their detractors. In every group – EVERY group – there are those who cling tenaciously to their dogmas, unwilling to listen to opposing arguments, yet unable to do more than spout a few emotional platitudes in defense of their own views. However, those same groups contain many more people who have reached certain conclusions after considerable thought, discussion, and – occasionally – research.

So the next time you prepare to jump into a debate, breathe deeply. Remind yourself that the person disagreeing with you is somebody’s friend. Maybe even yours. And it’s quite possible that he or she has employed rational thought in arriving at a particular position, whether or not you agree with every step of the thought process and where it led. Finally, remember: most people are not horrible, and ultimately, the only mind you can really claim to know is your own.

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2 thoughts on “An Exercise in Self-Restraint

  1. Pingback: Falling Into Grace | Through a Glass Darkly

  2. Pingback: Gun Control: How to Maintain the Stalemate | Through a Glass Darkly

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