As we come to the end of 2017, it is kind of interesting to look back on a personal as well as a societal level to see what has changed, what has stayed the same and what we aren’t too sure about yet.
One thing that struck me along with just about everyone else about 2017 was the role of division in American society. I found an interesting graphic from Pew Research that demonstrates how we have become more polarized politically, and that is certainly obvious. Very few people are willing to cross the aisle even for a good idea. If one side says it, it must be absolutely right or wrong. For example, if you take a look at the videos that are put out by people like Campus Reform, we like plans that are associated with people we like, and we dislike anything that is associated with people we don’t like. Even if we don’t know anything about the actual position, we don’t like it because of who it is associated with.
I think that the alternative to this could perhaps be one of our New Year’s resolutions for 2018. Why don’t we actually commit to combating polarization by actually evaluating things before we immediately approve or disapprove of them? If we engage in that work ahead of time, when we actually come to a position, our arguments will not be based on purely emotion. I think that is the driver of polarization. We really don’t know what we’re talking about most of the time, but we still hold to opinions. If you can’t debate with facts, you are relegated to debating with your feelings, and that leads to emotionally charged statements rather than discussions of actual facts.
When we engage in these types of opinion-driven conversations without any support behind the opinion, we naturally get frustrated. I don’t like it when someone keeps asking me why I believe something, but I can’t give them an answer. When we start getting frustrated, things start to be said that ought not be said, and the wedge is driven in deeper and deeper.
Therefore, it is vitally important for us to truly think before we speak. This is actually a very Christian position to take as well as the Bible is full of guidance about listening and keeping a guard on our tongues. While this will not solve every problem we have, I do think it will definitely make a difference. When people have to think through an issue, reason has a greater opportunity to begin working. Although some of us might come to different conclusions after thinking through difficult issues, a lot of times logic and reason are going to drive us to similar positions. It is only when we get wrapped up in our emotions that we begin to swing wildly. It is almost like a boxer who knows that he is about to get knocked out. He begins making desperate maneuvers and punches to hopefully get himself out of a hole. Most of the time it doesn’t happen, and he loses the fight anyway.
In much the same way, we do need to think about our positions rather than grab them blindly. If we do that, I think that will help our extraordinary amount of polarization in society today.