On Disagreeing & How to Do It Well

It seems that there is a lot of disagreement in our world today. That’s stating the obvious, isn’t it? On Valentine’s Day, there was another mass shooting at a school. Before then, and even more since then, there has been a lot of discussion about why school shootings keep happening and how to prevent them from happening. The issue is complex: guns, mental health, teachers and their training, the foster care system, adolescence, bullying . . . all of these issues are at play and all are being discussed.

What interests me even more than mass shootings or school shootings or gun control discussions is the question of HOW we talk to one another when we disagree with one another. This interests me because it applies to these discussions since the Parkland shooting, but also applies to other political discussions and to marriage and to parenting and friendship and so many other areas of life. If only we could figure out how to disagree well, we might find common ground.

We might even find the space to agree with one another.

I have a few thoughts today that seem worth resurrecting my old blog for. I do a lot of writing on Facebook and sometimes wonder if I should transfer those musings over here. Or perhaps I shouldn’t muse there and should write here instead. I find the interactive nature of Facebook engaging. I don’t find that here on the blog (likely because I don’t post often), so I find myself more focused on Facebook. What I want to say today is a little longer, though, so I’ll pop it here and post it to Facebook to see what your thoughts are.

So, here are my musings, my ponderings, today:

To start with, I’ll share this article for the primary purpose of encouraging you to view two short videos embedded in the article. Before continuing, would you go take a quick look? First, you’ll find a short parody by a surviving student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Further on in the article, you’ll find the NRA ad that the student is parodying.

Let me begin by saying that Sarah Chadwick’s parody is a bold move. Sarah is clearly creative and passionate, and she has been deeply impacted by the tragedy at her school. I commend her creativity in speaking her mind on an important issue in such a creative way.
The NRA ad is fascinating to me. The spokesperson seems so angry. It feels troubling to me, so I am trying to dig in to what she’s saying, wondering who would hear this and be receptive. If those who would hear the ad receptively are a set of people, I think it’s the same set who voted for Trump (or much overlap). I don’t say that to dismiss them in any way. I say it to understand. It’s a group of people who believe they are being lied to by liberal press. It’s a group of people who believe they are being manipulated by paid actors hired to mourn at school shootings. It is a group of people who believe their rights are being trampled on.
The reality about these ads, though, is that they speak to fundamentally different audiences. I don’t think there is any overlap in who would find each compelling. That is a huge problem today: we, the people, aren’t hearing each other and understanding each other well enough to come to agreement on what we want for our country.
Donald Trump didn’t get elected because he’s a dictator who ordered himself into power or muscled his way in. He got elected because there is a large group of people who believe what he says. Setting aside the question about whether he can and will do what he says he will, the thing that concerns me most is that we, the people, cannot find common ground.
We, the Blue State folks (I’m in Illinois, raised on the East Coast), don’t have the right to trample on the interests of the Red State folks. That’s not how it works in this country. We may believe we know better. But I only get one vote. And the Mom in the Red State only gets one vote. So, if we, the people, cannot come to agreement, where does that leave us, as a country?
I TRULY do not know what the solution is. Regarding mass shootings, I believe we need common sense gun laws. I’m not 100% sure what that means. I think many of us (on both sides of this issue) don’t even understand what the actual gun laws are and whether those laws are actually enforced.
We cannot even see clearly enough to know what the solutions are.
It’s complicated. So complicated.

To add to the explanation of the complexity, I’d like to tell you a little story that happened to me last week. My daughter and I, and my sister-in-law and niece, were at Disney World to run a Half Marathon and a 10K race. We arrived late on a Thursday night, just past midnight. We were going to sleep in a bit in the morning, aiming to be on our way to get our race bibs by about 9:30 AM.

Now, it is my habit in hotel rooms to lock the door, latch it, but also put out the Do Not Disturb sign. The lock & latch are for intruders, of course, but the DND sign is primarily for Housekeeping. To me, one of the worst hotel things is when you’re attempting to sleep in after late travel, only to have Housekeeping knocking you out of sweet slumber. You are abruptly awakened and need to quickly talk to them and explain why they can’t come in — in the middle of your sleep oblivion.

All that to say: this is my habit, so I looked for the sign, but couldn’t find one. I asked my sister-in-law and she said that she’d heard that since the Las Vegas concert shooting in October 2017, hotels often don’t have Do Not Disturb signs anymore. The shooter had been stockpiling guns in his hotel room for 4 days with a Do Not Disturb sign on the door. I don’t know if this is policy or practice or statute or what (or if my sister-in-law is mistaken), but the idea is that hotels should have the right to come in to the rooms at their discretion.

So . . . on the one hand, I get it. The hotel owns the property. They should be able to take steps to avoid their property being used to stockpile weapons for a mass shooting. On the other hand, I had this tiny, little twinge of feeling that my privacy was being violated. Tiny. Just a moment. To be frank, I’m someone that thinks about my freedoms or privacy all that much. And in that moment, I thought that I may have captured how some people feel more broadly about their rights potentially being violated with proposed gun laws.

The truth is that with freedom comes responsibility and with safety comes a loss of freedom. To some extent. It is unavoidable. The question is to what extent are we able to tolerate the loss of freedom.

If we deny that there is loss of freedom with security and safety, I think we dismiss a truth. If we dismiss it, I think we won’t come up with real and workable solutions that we, the people, will actually agree on.

Think about it.

Let’s take another example, maybe one less controversial, so I can explain what I mean. Let’s take home-birth midwives. Now, I recognize that many of us wouldn’t choose birthing with a midwife or birthing at home, but we likely all know people who choose that path. And I would want women who want that to be able to do it. My sister birthed at home. I was there. It was amazing.

There are lots of state regulations about home-birth midwives. In some states, anyone can be the midwife. There is a long history of mentor-ship and apprentice-ship, the way that it happened in the Bible and even in frontier days and around the globe today. Women learned from women. In the U.S., they’re called Direct Entry Midwives. They learn on the job. No particular schooling is required. They’re not licensed. But they know their stuff. Those are some of the safest births and some of the most knowledgeable women about birth that you can find, the world around.

In some states, in the interest of protecting babies, there are laws making it illegal for Direct Entry Midwives to birth babies. Some states have laws saying that you have to be a CNM: Certified Nurse Midwife. This means you have a BSN (Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing), which typically requires 5 years of schooling post-high school. In addition, there is extra schooling and licensing specifically about pregnancy, labor, delivery, and newborn care. So, in some states, the decades of woman-to woman training that has created unmedicated, safe, and wonderful birthing environments for babies is illegal. These midwives, depending upon the state where they practice, could be arrested and jailed for attending a home birth and participating in the care of the mother.

What this means is that there aren’t many Direct Entry Midwives in those states (IL is one), which means that there are fewer birthing options available to Moms in Illinois. Indeed, birthing centers (a home-like environment that isn’t a hospital — another alternative) have been illegal in IL until a couple years ago.

So, if you lived in Oregon, for example, you could choose to birth at home with a woman who’d birthed countless babies as a Direct Entry Midwife, but in IL you couldn’t do that without risking the midwife breaking the law and getting arrested.

Concerns about safety create a loss of privacy and a loss of freedom.

Now, you might fall on either side of this issue. You might feel that women should be able to choose how they labor and deliver. Or maybe you think the risk is too great and Direct Entry Midwives should not be permitted. Either way, I believe we must acknowledge that when you seek to gain security or safety and reduce risk, you often choose to lose freedom.

Hopefully, it’s not accidental. Hopefully, it’s calculated and thoughtful.

Because it’s complicated.

Giving away our freedoms is something that should not be taken lightly.

Complicated. And I’m afraid that both ads (the original and the parody) paint a simplistic picture. I agree with the Sarah Chadwick’s parody. And yet, some won’t even hear her, because they won’t get beyond the fact that she’s not acknowledging the loss of freedom connected with these issues.

I desperately wish there were safe places to discuss these things. Even posting this feels a little dangerous, a little vulnerable. Everyone just shouts opinions at each other. We will never solve anything that way.

I find myself asking a lot of questions. I think my main question, perhaps my focus, is about method or approach: it’s about the HOW. So for example: if I think banning assault weapons makes sense and is a minimal step toward fewer mass shootings (I do), then HOW do I go about helping that along?
What should I do? What should I say? The irritating bottom-line is I don’t know. I have many friends who post articles about gun control and debate these issues on social media. I’m afraid, though, that in our little Facebook worlds where we “curate” our FRIENDS list, primarily those who agree with us are seeing these sorts or things. So, while they’re good, what next? What else? Is political involvement helpful? Prayer?
Or maybe simply buckling down and caring for today’s teenagers and teaching them to love their neighbor and to resolve conflict with their words, not their guns. I tend to lean in to the latter, while feeling somewhat incomplete in my broader efforts.
As  pondered all of this today and discussed it with some friends, one shared this piece with me from today’s New York Times. I think it captures many of my thoughts. If you don’t read the whole thing, I will at least give you this quote to ponder:
“Liberals and people of the left underpin their politics with moral concerns about harm and fairness; they are driven by the imperative to help the vulnerable and see justice done. Conservatives and people of the right value these things as well but have several additional moral touchstones — loyalty, respect and sanctity. They value in-group solidarity, deference to authority, and the protection of purity in mind and body. To liberals, those sincerely held values can look a lot like, in Dr. Haidt’s words, ‘xenophobia, authoritarianism and Puritanism.’ This asymmetry is the fountainhead of mutual incomprehension and disdain.”
What do you think about conflict? Do you tend to disagree well or poorly? Can learning to listen to each other impact broad, societal issues . . . or is that simply not enough?
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