The Lost Art of Disagreement and Functional Conversation in America: Where is the Love and Respect?
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Hello everyone! First, a story.
I have the pleasure of delivering meals to high risk families this summer through my church's summer lunch program. My team member is an African American Army veteran, a Gen Boomer Army Ranger to be exact. He's about my dad's age now. He is respectful and pleasant to talk to. He won't call me by my name, he says "ma'am" when he speaks with me instead. No one talks like that anymore, really. These guys are the real deal. They jump out of planes with guns and a full pack and they have to maneuver in a parachute to the ground. How's that for an "office?"
Our somewhat controversial conversation started with a question about my anchor tattoo on my leg. He thought I'd been in the navy. I asked him if women were in the Army Rangers back in 70s. He told me no and then he said something very interesting. He said, "Women can be in the military. They can be administrators, secretaries, nurses, docs, etc. in that type of field but they should never be in combat. Even if she can take care of herself (note he acknowledges this which I found curious), I will always feel responsible for her to protect her. Maybe I'm to old-school for modern women, but women compromise a unit in combat." Hearing those words from a man on a computer screen or on TV is far different than hearing them from a man who is sitting right next to you. The guy on the screen can't see your face or hear you saying anything, the guy right next to you can. He watched my face for a second. Once he had realized he had not offended me, just left me with something to think about, he relaxed. I can imagine that opinion has gotten him looks that could kill and words that were far from pleasant. I will admit I had to take this in having grown up in a generation where women have increasingly filled combat rolls (since the late 1990s); and now fill the gamut of combat rolls in the air, on land, at sea and under the sea (as of 2018-2019). It seemed foreign to him and quite normal to me. I have known many women in the military who serve proudly in and out of combat so his words were a bit hard to hear honestly.
We then discussed the far more progressive Israeli military. They experimented with all women, front-line infantry units in the early 70s, a concept that did not work by the way. Do you know why? When they sent the women forward to attack, which they did ferociously, the all male units surged ahead to join and protect them instead of staying in their formations behind them (as they were ordered to do) creating a bit of confusion and chaos. I've seen the real footage. I asked him, in a given situation, could men turn that desire to protect "off" to follow orders if absolutely necessary? He said "No, it's innate. Something innate can't be turned "off" just like that, no matter the orders. No wonder those infantry men surged ahead.” He then went on to tell me he was glad I had not joined the military. I just listened, turning the conversation over in my mind. We moved on to other less controversial topics and finished our deliveries. He is a friendly man with a lot of history to share and I look forward to working with him this summer.
I have been thinking about this very pleasant, somewhat controversial conversation ever since. We did not get offended at one another. We did not feel the need to change each other's minds. We did not feel the need to tell each other “you're wrong.” We did not yell and scream. We did honor each other's perspective. We had a pleasant discussion, and I think we came away knowing a little more about one another in the end. I tell all of you this story because I realize more and more that we have lost the ability and the art of disagreement and functional adult conversation, particularly between men and women. We have lost mutual love and respect for each other as God's image-bearers. Men and women are too quick to throw jabs at one another in our day and age, jockeying and vying for position like school kids on a playground. In America, we just don't listen to each other anymore. We come to conversations with preconceived ideas about the subject and one another. We'd rather call each other names and give each other labels than try and understand what someone is trying to convey. We have lost the art of taking into account where people have come from and what experiences they bring to the table. We are the most offended generation ever! Men and women alike walk around with fragile egos and feelings on their shoulders piled a mile high – that must be exhausting and heavy. We can't listen, we don't want to listen. We are all telling our “truths” but I wonder if we care about what the actual Truth is anymore. This really breaks my heart for you America!
Please don't hear what I didn't say. I am not condoning bullying nor ignoring hurting people when they are telling the truth about a situation or person. I am also not saying that we don't stand up for what is right and wrong. What I am saying is this, we could stand to listen more and talk less. We could stand to get in touch with true reality instead of the pseudo-reality of this age in human relationships. We could stand to come to the table with open ears and less with open mouths. We could stand to learn to disagree and still have functional, adult conversations in this nation. And men and women, we could stand to work together instead of against each other. Ladies, not all men are bad men; not all men want to harm you like the last one (or your dad) did. Gentlemen, not every woman is out to gold dig or treat you like the other woman (or your mother) did. Ladies and gents, you are going to have to have hard conversations at some point with one another – don't run from that, run to it and learn to communicate. Ladies, men have opinions and sometimes you won't like them; that doesn't mean you get to cancel him and not listen to his perspective. Gents, women have opinions too and sometimes you won't like them. You don't get to cancel us either nor treat us like children. We can either be in this life together as men and women, or we can be really lonely. The choice is ours.
And as for our politicians, they are simply products of where we are today. They reflect us and our society. We lost the ability to have meaningful, functional conversations in our communities and families long before they lost that ability in Washington DC. We only correct this problem by returning to said meaningful, functional conversations in our communities and families with basic love and respect for our fellow image bearers. When we do this, we will send people to DC (much less to our state houses and governors' mansions) who reflect these values, reflect our community values, and model mutual love and respect for their fellow politicians as well. At this point in America, I fear for both our society and our ability to maintain our Republic. We are already showing signs of societal sickness. Where there is no love, hate fills the vacuum. Where there is no communication; fear, control, and confusion fill the vacuum and exact heavy tolls personally, spiritually, politically, and socially. With fear and control come oppression, and with oppression, comes the death of all we know and love.
In the end, to have these kinds of conversations in our communities, our houses of government, and with our families will require us to return to the basic love and respect that is missing in American society today. This will motivate us to love our neighbor, even if we don't agree with them. This will motivate us to love our spouse and our children, even if we don't like what they said or did (I am not talking about abusive situations). Love does not look to its own interests but the interests of others. This does not mean that love and respect bypass truth, they do not. We simply need love and respect, before we can speak truth (we've got this backwards). Where there is love and respect, people can hear the truth and receive it, even if it stings a bit. We have to acknowledge that there will be people in this nation not interested in truth, love, or respect - nothing will change that in their hearts except them and a radical encounter with Jesus. Our conversations and our political discourse will not change except for a radical encounter with Jesus. This nation will not change course, except for a radical encounter with Jesus.
I ask you to pray today - pray for radical encounters with the King across our land and in the halls of Congress and beyond. The King changes everything, including our conversations. The Donkey and the Elephant will even find peace with the King.
Let it begin with us individually. I will leave you with the words of the Apostle Paul in Colossians 4:6 (TPT); “Let every word you speak be drenched with grace *(compassion) and tempered with truth and clarity *(friendly, making others thirsty for truth). For then you will be able to give a respectful answer to anyone who asks about your faith (e.g., beliefs, values, etc.)”
*Parenthesis added to explain the Greek word more clearly and in context.
With much love,