“Why don’t you get more angry with people?” one of my new colleague’s asked me recently? “You get hammered by people on your blog and you never seem to tell them off.” There are a number of things wrong with this observation. First, I do get irritated, but it seldom benefits anyone to get in a fight about a disagreement. Second, I don’t feel hammered — I have one or two worthy adversaries and one or two people with an axe to grind, but that’s what the blog is for. Third, I do tell people off, but I try to do it reasonably, with information and even-handedness. I try very hard not to take things personally, or to make things personal with someone else. Fourth, I would hate it if everyone thought exactly like me. We need a rich diversity of thoughts, beliefs, approaches and solutions. At least when people disagree with me it means they are attempting to engage and they care enough to participate — no matter how politely or otherwise. And here’s a little secret. I believe that everybody’s right.
Not that everybody is 100% right, but that everyone is right to some degree. Stay with me — there is a logic here. Who in their right mind would ever defend an idea or opinion that they knew to be false? People who disagree with me have every right to their opinion — even when that opinion is wrong (joke). Take any volatile subject. People try to boil everything down to good/bad, right/wrong, holy/evil, etc. Polarization is the sanctuary of the unimaginative. Either/or thinking is the default position of the ignorant. There are rarely just two sides to any issue. Take abortion for example. We want to make it a simple “right or wrong” issue. People have strong feelings about it — but they do not all rest at one extreme end of the argument or the other. Is it murder or not? When does life actually begin? Where does sentience lie? Who has the right to decide to terminate another life, a pregnancy, a potential life? What about extenuating circumstances of rape, incest, abject poverty, etc? For you or me, none of these questions might matter. But to others, they matter deeply and these very conditions settle the issue one way or the other for them. Our positions are based on core values, personal beliefs, mass opinions, information, misinformation, emotions, personal experience, cultural mores, education, economic status, gender, and on and on. Interestingly, when the issue comes up, we try to reduce everything to information, as a weapon to “win” the debate. But isn’t it much more than a debate? Isn’t abortion much more than an “issue?” We reduce the big subjects of life and human existence to “topics” when we feel incapable of resolving them. But some things are unresolvable — and as human beings we face them in a wide variety of ways.
So, everyone is right to a greater or lesser extent. A person may be wrong 99% and right 1%, but there has to be that one percent or the person wouldn’t defend the position — and I try (I repeat, try) to honor that 1%. If I don’t honor that 1% then I slam the door on having any potential influence on the person I disagree with. Our dialogue ends. Our exchange of ideas is terminated. Where is the good in that? There are biblical instructions to view others as more important than myself, to turn the other cheek, to do unto others as I would have them do unto me. These are not meant to be empty platitudes, but lived standards of behavior.
Does this mean I accept what everyone else believes? No way. I worked in prison ministry for almost twenty years. I met over 1,000 prisoners in that time, and at least 999 deserved to be right where they were. In all the years I worked with inmates, I heard 1,001 justifications for why they had to do what they had done. Some of the stories were heartbreaking and tragic. One mother smothered her two little children so she wouldn’t have to watch them suffer and starve. One man killed another man for enough money to buy insulin for his wife. A young man drove a car for his friends who robbed a gas station because he was trying to fit in and escape a brutal home life. Everyone had a reason, no one felt they were 100% wrong, but each had to pay the consequences of their actions. One man I met was a lifelong KKK member and a hateful, racist, sexist bigot. He spewed vile insults against any and all minorities. I never found one redeemable quality in the man, but the only way I could visit with him and pray with and for him was to search for that 1% — this was a man raised by a drunken, abusive father after his mother died when he was three. He was imprisoned and tortured during the second World War. His sister had been raped by a black man while he was away at war. Nothing excuses the man and his abominable conduct and beliefs, but much explains it. I didn’t shed a tear when he died, but he gave me hope that if I could find grace for him I could find it for almost anyone.
Our world doesn’t need more fighting. It doesn’t benefit from more judgement and hostility. Friendly debate, honest disagreement, and even heated discussion are fine, but open attack? Forget about it. There is a subtle elegance to being part of the solution rather than contributing to the problem. Anyone can disagree with me at any time with my blessing. It doesn’t make them right and me wrong, nor does it make me right and them wrong. Truth is no single brick in the wall, but the mortar that holds all bricks in place and makes the wall strong. We need each other — even in our disagreement. This is the challenge in being human and the test of being Christian — to become one body composed of many parts, so that together we might be an honor and a glory to our Creator and God. Who belongs in this body? Everybody, right?