Engage with Love
Recently, I got involved in a Facebook quarrel. An old friend posted a thought provoking question and invited responses. One of the responders took issue with my reply. Others chimed in and within minutes several of us got embroiled in an online argument. When I was feeling agitated and when it dawned on me that I was debating with people I had never met, I left the debate and resumed my preferred posture of Facebook observer. I discovered that I was engaged in the very behavior I eschew.
In a recent New York Times column, David Brooks reflected on the pervasive heated rhetoric in these bitter times. Brooks spoke of the need for civility in public discourse: “If you make people feel heard, maybe in some small way you’ll address the emotional bile that is at the root of their political posture.” Citing Stephen L. Carter’s book Civility, he points to a shining example in the American era of post-Civil War reconstruction: “the best abolitionists restrained their natural hatred of slaveholders because they thought the reform of manners and the abolition of slavery were part of the same cause – to restore the dignity of every human being.”
In the baptismal covenant, we promise to “serve all people, following the example of Jesus and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.” What does it mean to live out this baptismal promise? I think it includes how we speak and listen to our neighbors, especially those with whom we disagree. Instead of presuming to persuade others to our point of view, we are free to approach others with listening ears and the expectation of learning something new.
It is easy to turn up the volume in noisy and polarizing times, but instead of talking with one another, we end up talking past each other. Living peaceably involves more than turning down the volume. It is a matter of honoring others. I like the wisdom of St. James: “Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger…” (James 1:19)
Let us love one another in the manner and way of Christ.