A friend of mine, after a recent charged debate occurring on my Facebook wall, said simply: “Matt, I find that you have one of the most balanced approaches to these difficult topics of anyone I know.”
I have my high school debate coach, Mr. Bartholomew, to thank for initiating the spark in a journey I really learn more about daily: the art of separating the person from the idea in order to discuss a topic while preserving our humanity. It’s not easy to centrifuge out the emotional and rational when it comes to hot-button issues, but we’re all trying our best to do so. And as a result, I’ve found myself fully comfortable in engaging with others on Facebook — yep, the ole’ rattletrap — around pretty sensitive topics.
I’ve dipped into those stormy waters a few times, and one principle I try to follow is to give everyone who wants to contribute a platform to do so. It doesn’t mean your view won’t be challenged, but I do my best to give everyone respect and time to share…as long as it’s afforded to me. It was during a recent discussion on Syrian refugees where my limit was tested. An acquaintance of mine from my Campus Crusade days (more on that some other time), who tends to lurk on my Facebook when I raise a controversial topic, raised his own voice in contrast to my viewpoint on the topic. It started as a disagreement; it escalated to ad hominem; it exploded into borderline rage.
“hypocrite…wicked…i’m calling YOU out.”
I’ve been called a few names; granted, most of that ceased at the age of twelve, at least that I know of. So the fury with which these word barbs came flying at me was pretty shocking. Friends messaged me, wondering where that came from, and encouraged me to do the right thing.
Oh, but if only they knew my struggle with what is right: as a child, even leading into adulthood, the right thing usually meant that I acquiesced to their feedback, and let them continue to poke holes in my already shaky lattice of self-confidence. It took a few awful situations — not always self-created, but I was still the leading character — before discovering the art of saying, being, or doing no without fear of reprisal.
Sun Tzu speaks about the value of mission in The Art of War:
Command your people in a way that gives them a higher shared purpose.
In many ways, I wanted my wall to be a shared space for dialogue, and to guide others into a higher purpose: understanding of one another across religious, cultural, social, and geographic bounds. And I started wondering whether or not this person, with his vitriol, really contributed to that. I was grasping for a reason to leave the serpent’s head attached. …but then, I shelved the “higher purpose” stuff. I shelved the words, the actions, even the topic and the goal of creating a safe space for others to discuss. And all that was laid bare was how awful this person made me feel…and how I really had no desire whatsoever to tell that person how he made me feel, nor to find some solution that would cause him to stop.