One of my favourite pieces of Bible wisdom (and there are many) starts off: “to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven”. In the past six months there have been two votes where the outcome is what I wanted, notwithstanding reservations in both cases. I am talking of course about the Brexit vote in June and the US Presidential vote that recently took place. Usually, when it comes to voting, e.g. in local and national elections, the person / party I did NOT vote for ended up winning, but not in these two biggies. Furthermore, few, including me, predicted the outcomes, and there are many who remain shell shocked to this day.
It happens, as regular readers of my blogs know all too well, I wrote extensively, giving my views on the various issues voted on and, while quite different and far apart, the remarkable similarities in the reasons why people voted the way they did in the two votes, and in a way pollsters did NOT predict. While it is tempting to pit conservatives / traditionalists against liberals / progressives, it is a lot more complex than that, but it does impact on matters like our hopes for our countries and our world views. One thing did happen on both occasions, I got into heated debate with “friends” over our differing views, and I reckon if I had done a straw poll more would have disagreed with me than agree. In most cases, we remained friends and after putting our cases we amicably agreed to disagree, although in a few cases feelings ran high and a degree of relationship breakdown did occur. This was not helped by different parties strongly pushing their views (me included). What became evident was there are big differences in opinion on important questions.
I must confess to a feeling of hurt pride that all too often I failed to convince folk of the overwhelming strengths of my brilliant arguments (and maybe the reverse was true too). It then becomes a case of accepting we are where we are and life goes on with what hand has been dealt. I was struck by one article that arrived in my inbox earlier today: “Have Coffee With a Radical: The Value of Listening to People We Disagree With – If we’re only hearing from people who think like us, we’re missing out on a lot. Politically, theologically and relationally”. It got me thinking about my journey thus far, for the truth is that in almost all cases our views and reactions are a product to some extent of our life experiences, and we are not always right. The wisest among us will recognize this to be the case and try to accommodate those who think differently. The noblest among us will do more than voice views – we act on them!
As some will know, I had a religious conversion experience in my mid teens and then became involved with a neo-fundamentalist religious group, which had a profound impact on my thinking and doing, some good and some bad. The problem belonging to groups like this is there is a tendency to dismiss those who think differently (although in fairness I have seen the same tendencies wherever I have gone) and when it came to do-gooder type activities this was invariably undertaken along with those of a similar mind to ourselves with dissent often being quashed. That didn’t deter me engaging with those who thought differently, but it was a lot later when my community activism involved such to any great extent. When I helped to set up a community project to help people with mental health issues, around the turn of the millennium, I found I had to work with those who thought quite differently to myself. Yet we managed to achieve something that contributed to the common good because the interested parties put aside their differences and came together to do those things we all recognized needed doing.
Later on in my community activist career, I helped to start a charity that put on diversity events and tried to bring together and better understand the various disparate groups that existed in our local community. We managed to engage with all the main faith organisations (and those of no faith), those from the various BME groups, LGBT representatives, those working with particular needs e.g. homelessness, refugees, HIV, Domestic Violence, the young, old and disabled, etc., and we got on remarkably well and demonstrated that we could reconcile with our differences and work together to serve our wider community. One benefit for me is I got to know and respect those who were somewhat different to me in their outlook.
It seems to me that trying to accommodate the many, sometimes conflicting, perspectives that exist in our communities (as the two big votes clearly showed does exist) can be a positive thing, especially when we can find common ground, for that provides the basis whereby we might achieve common goals and help our fellow man. It does not necessarily require us to sacrifice principles or ditch reasonably held beliefs either. I like how the article ended, challenging us to keep the conversation alive. While I fully intend to continue to research facts and argue my case and, more challenging, become a better person, which I fully intend to do. It seems to me there is a time, many times, when we put aside our differences and come together in order to work for the common good.
“I believe most people want that. They want to hear other ideas and have civil conversations.
So here’s what I plan to do, no matter how loudly the “turn off the other side” voices become.
- I will stand for the truth while looking for greater truth.
- I will keep expressing my opinions as wisely and respectfully as I can. Sometimes getting it right. Sometimes getting it wrong. Usually with a mix of both.
- I will listen respectfully to ideas that seem crazy at first.
- I will be open to changing my mind when new information comes in.
- I will challenge all presuppositions by the light of scripture. Including my own.
- I will not be silenced by those who want to shout others down.
- I will keep learning.
- I will keep growing.
And I will keep loving those who disagree with me.”