Yesterday, something really cool and increasingly rare happened on Facebook. Nineteen people gathered in one spot to discuss/debate a very hot button social issue. These nineteen people brought with them a rather wide spectrum of views on the subject at hand. How wide? Here is a brief demographic breakdown of the participants:
A widely respected attorney from Bon Air, who once served as a groomsman at my wedding.
A newly minted young attorney who was once one of many knuckleheads in the youth group of my former church.
Some random friend of the Bon Air attorney.
My son, the shockingly opinionated young musician from Nashville.
My daughter, the gifted educator from South Carolina.
Some random friend of my son.
Another knucklehead from the youth group, who played college football.
Yet another youth group knucklehead, this one an architect, and brand spanking New father.
A CFO of a big hospital in Atlanta.
A new friend from church, wife and mother of two girls.
Hard working, African-American single dad who should have his own show on ESPN.
Some random friend of hard working African-American dad.
A Unitarian, Universalist minister and gifted composer/musician from Nashville.
My daughter's first college roommate, a hard working spitfire of a single mom raising an adorable daughter in Florida.
Yet another knucklehead from the old youth group(an inexhaustible supply), this one an unashamed Indians fan.
Young entrepreneur and accomplished businessman and former student of mine who is still primarily a knucklehead.
A financial software rep who claims to root for the Tenneesse Vols and eats barbecue like it's his job.
Recent college graduate and and adorable former neighbor of mine.
We went back and forth on the hot button subject of what to do about confederate statues in the United States. It went on and on for most of the day. We didn't agree. We came to no conclusions. Although I personally did hear some interesting ideas, I'm not sure any of us changed anyone's mind. So, what was so "cool and rare" about it? I'll tell you what was so cool and rare. The entire debate was carried off with no name calling, no insults, and large doses of respect. In America in 2017, this is no small accomplishment.
I look around at my country and I see a great unraveling, a vanishing civility. In our public discourse, we start from an assumption of bad faith, then everything becomes an accusation competition, and swiftly descends into dark places. I start these conversations on Facebook because I believe now, more than ever, that we can and we must do better than that. At one point in the discussion yesterday, a couple or three participants went from hearty disagreement to jokingly debating the merits of tacos vs. burritos without missing a beat. It was awesome.
So, it can be done. Every disagreement doesn't have to collapse under the weight of suspicion and anger. We can listen to someone on the other side of an issue respectfully, really listen, with our whole hearts. If nothing else we come away with a better understanding of their arguments.
At a time in our country's history when we seem to be governed by a middle schooler, it is critical that the rest of us learn how to engage each other like fully formed adults, even and especially when we disagree.