Thursday, March 22, 2012

Extreme discourse

This week Spring officially began.  Living in Minnesota  where this year winter leap year’d into summer, much of the talk is about “climate change” as a way to explain the strange weather patterns.  It’s a no-brainer way to fire up controversy in this now purple state.

Archbishop Rowan Williams, the leader of the Anglican Communion has had his fair share of controversy and after ten years in office announced his resignation this week.    During his tenure the threat of a schism in the Communion became a real possibility.  The issues of homosexuality that have become wedge issues in political campaigns have been front and center in the Denomination.  The Episcopal Church, the American member of the Anglican Community, led the way by electing Gene Robinson the first gay bishop.  (Robinson will retire within the year himself.)  Mary D. Glasspool became the first lesbian Bishop two years ago.  On the other side of the spectrum some African Anglicans support legislation to execute people for identifying themselves as gay or lesbian.

After nearly 20 years as a Senator from Maine, Olympia Snowe announced her resignation saying it was because of the “atmosphere of polarization and ‘my way or the highway’ ideologies.”  Snowe has long been considered one of the ‘swing’ Senators who did not vote consistently on party lines.  When she began in the Senate that trait allowed her to build a reputation for being thoughtful and deliberative while building consensus amongst colleagues.  In the late ‘90’s and 00’s when moderates became fewer this trait was suspect and considered wishy-washy.  More recently the ‘all or nothing’ partisanship meant that Snowe was essentially no longer a member of her party because she wouldn’t toe the line.  She was being challenged for the GOP nomination by a Tea-Party activist.

A friend posted this on Facebook the other day:  “If you saw First Lady Michelle Obama on Letterman and thought anything except, "That's a classy, smart lady who had the nation's best interest at heart and brings solutions to the tables to solve some of those problems." Well, then we shouldn't be friends. Please let me know.” Simply disagreeing with somebody jeopardizes a friendship?  I do happen to think that Mrs. Obama is fabulous, but that’s not the point.  And I know my friend was using literary license to make their point…so I shall do the same:  Exposing ourselves to only those who agree with us is one of the, if not the, biggest threats America has. 

I engaged in some back-and-forth this week on social media about a political leader this week.  It wasn’t vitriolic or combative – just some differing perspectives being aired on a news story of the day.  We remain friends.  My opinion didn’t change, but by actively engaging I had to look at my opinion and justify it on my own, not as a monolithic mantra.  In the end I’m more comfortable on that particular issue because I had to thoughtfully substantiate it.

Archbishop Williams is tired of having to do that.  In his departing statement he said:  “I would hope that my successor has the constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros.”   

Polarized.  That’s where the world has moved to.  Instead of the Anglican Communion finding a way to celebrate what binds 80 million persons of faith together, a schism is imminent – and in some regions has essentially happened.  Senator Snowe, tired of being a handful of legislators trying to mediate and bridge differences, moves on.  Most of us can look at our social media lists of friends and colleagues and find that vast percentages of them support the same causes, groups and politics.

We all want the comfort of a conflict-free life.  A vibrant, informed electorate requires differences to be celebrated.  Critical thinking doesn’t have to be unpleasant.  I can care for a person and respect their beliefs and still passionately disagree with them.  That’s what is beautiful about freedom.  What is ugly, though, is just walking away, resigned that today’s extreme discourse is absolute.

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