It’s been said if you want to get into an argument, just start a conversation about religion or politics. Apparently whoever said that never took part in my neighborhood book club.
Last week my book club met to discuss The Red Tent. Published over a decade ago, it’s a fictional story that uses the brief Biblical story of Jacob’s one daughter – Dinah – as its jumping off point. [Jacob as in the 12 tribes of Israel, as in Jacob and Esau, sons of Isaac, who was the son of Abraham – the father of the Hebrew/Jewish nation. Just in case you were wondering.]
Anyhoo. The focus of the book was to unpack what life was like from the women’s perspective in ancient (Biblical) culture. The “red” tent was designated for the women to gather during “that time” for rest, encouragement and deeper conversation.
After unpacking the book a bit, someone asked the question “…why is it that it seems like children of other religions (Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, etc.) seem to know so much more about religion – their own and in general – than kids who grow up in a traditional Christian environment?” Hmmm…. Why indeed.
Well, that seemed to ‘throw up the sash’ on people’s own religious backgrounds and experiences, which were varied across the board. The beautiful thing was unlike the cliche referenced above, there was no argument. No one was trying to convince anyone else of “their way,” but rather everyone took in turn to simply share their own experiences both from childhood and as adults. Our discussion was full of respect for everyone’s background and continuing questions around faith and the role of religion in our lives.
Author Scott Peck defines ‘true community’ as a state when individuals in a group enter a place of complete empathy with one another and people have “emptied themselves” of the need to change the other people. It was a beautiful thing to see and experience at my book club that night. And, I think you’d agree, that kind of community is becoming increasingly rare.
Overall, I think part of the Seattle Freeze is a shift in American culture toward total conflict avoidance, or the inability to deal with disagreement.
- We’ve got Bill O’Reilly harping on about the ‘culture war’ on one side and we’ve got MSNBC harping back from the other side.
- We don’t want to get to know a neighbor better because what if I hate their dog barking?
- We don’t want to invite a neighbor over for dinner because we don’t know if we’ll see eye to eye on legalized pot, gay marriage, or even the latest local school levy.
We’ve somehow lost the ability to have deeper conversations. I think we’re so caught up in being “nice” that we’re afraid if we disagree with anyone we’ll be perceived as being judgmental.
I believe there’s a vast difference in disagreeing and casting judgment. Disagreeing is simply having different convictions and beliefs about a certain issue. Judgment occurs when we think less of someone who thinks or lives differently that we do, or we think more highly of ourselves because of it.
A few weeks ago Caitlyn Jenner posted an image of herself on social media. Within 24 hours my Facebook and Twitter feeds were full of proclamations and opinions on both sides of the issue. I’m not sure where or when the best place or time is to have a conversation about transgender people in America, but I’m pretty sure it’s not via social media.
Last year I took a social media course through the University of Washington. Time and again when my classmates and I would assess a company’s social media strategy, their #1 problem was all talking and no listening. Talk about an analogy for the breakdown of community in our country.
Today, our Supreme Court made a huge ruling regarding same-sex marriage. My hope is that we would be mindful of our social media proclamations, and instead have the courage to have gracious, respectful and thoughtful conversations with our family, friends and neighbors.
I think we can all do our part to build great neighborhoods by welcoming discussion and opinions on all sides of often difficult and sensitive issues. So often it’s not our opinions that foster conflict, but how we express them. So often we spend far too much time talking and not enough listening.
Personally, I’ve been on a long journey, learning that it’s so much less important that others know where I stand, than it is for me to know what’s meaningful to them so that I can best know how to respect and to love them.
My book club friends and I have invested in one another for many years, creating the right climate for deeper conversations. Perhaps we can each spend a lot less energy this week espousing our opinions on social media, and instead invite a neighbor over for a simple cup of coffee. And just listen.