Monday, March 23, 2009

Where is Aretha when we need her?!

I began this entry in response to yet another drive-by email spewing political drivel from a distant family member who has never made an effort to ask my personal life philosophy, and realized I am addressing a much larger issue – a growing lack of respect for the ideals and sensibilities of others. Society once decreed that politics and religion were off limits for discussion in polite society. No need to cause offense over such personal and possibly inflammatory topics. Save the divisive rhetoric for a gathering of known like-minded individuals.

Not any longer. My email box is full of political rants of every ilk from people I haven’t had a serious discussion with in years – why do they assume I share their often narrow-minded view of the world? Just spew screeds out to the widest audience possible – usually their entire address book – and hurry on to the next rant. No debate, no exchange of ideas, no wondering if maybe they have insulted a recipient or two along the way…or even questioning if the latest politico they quoted even has their facts straight.

And political commentary is second only to the sermons which so many family and friends feel the need to distribute. I realize their version of Jesus called them to proselytize, and I confess to having been guilty of such impositions in my much younger evangelical days, but why does a polite “No, thank you” not suffice to cut off such misguided efforts? I don’t push my beliefs onto others, insisting they follow my ideals. I have learned from my past mistakes; I suppose I am also learning that many others do not. Living by example is far more effective at making a point than lecturing or dispensing propaganda, but it gets harder every day when my own sensibilities are repeatedly trampled by the oblivious or uncaring.

Which brings me back to respect for others. Rather than seeking not to offend, society now seems bent on dividing, on highlighting differences, on supposedly celebrating diversity, yet all the while insisting on some vague ‘right’ to impose what should be personal life choices on others. I don’t expect everyone to share my beliefs or opinions; what a dull world that would be! But calm, rational discussions have become passé. Talk radio and 24-hour sensationalized news cycles thrive on disagreement, not consensus. And that discordant bent has filtered into the offices and living rooms and email boxes of every one of us.

Nearly all wisdom literature in the world contains some version of the Golden Rule, treat others as you expect to be treated, first do no harm, but organized religion almost uniformly, and politics most definitely, seeks first to promote a narrow, often xenophobic agenda before looking to the broader picture of the common good. That’s all I ask from the world at large. From family and friends, I ask that they actually take an interest in my thoughts and life experiences before assuming I share their opinions. It’s how I treat them. I would no more send a political commentary I found insightful to my mother (whose conservative bent clashes severely with my more moderate/liberal stance) than I would share my support for the gay community with others in my life who put religion before compassion.

It would be marvelous to have serious discussions on important topics with people I love and respect, but few in my circle seem open to such possibilities. Those who share my desire for honest, open, respectful debate are cherished – and are far too few.

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