I came across a simple but profound idea in a little book by Donald Miller, entitled “Blue Like Jazz.” Here it is: “If a person senses that you do not like them, that you do not approve of their existence, then your religion and your political ideas will all seem wrong to them. If they sense that you like them, then they are open to what you have to say.” p. 220.
I’m thinking about global warming. It is my understanding that there is a pretty clear consensus among scientists who study the environment that the earth is indeed heating up, and that this heating up is caused in large part by the activities of human beings, and the consequences of our actions are terrifyingly destructive, so we need to changer our ways, and do so quickly.
Nonetheless, there are many people who persist in saying that this is all overblown; that the doomsayers aren’t speaking the truth.
What is happening here? I think the quote from Donald Miller hit’s the nail on the head, and we all bear some responsibility in helping to create the situation where people find it so very hard to listen to one another.
Over the past seven years, people on the left in our country have reveled in a personal sense of distaste for George W. Bush. Progressives simply don’t like the guy. To see anything comparable to this collective dislike, you have to go back to the eight years that preceded Bush’s presidency. Throughout that time conservatives despised Bill Clinton in a very similar way.
In both instances, the despisers focused on the flaws in the personality of the despised, dismissing his strengths. The despisers were predisposed to outright reject anything that the despised said.
All this contempt for the other side breeds an equal and opposite contempt, and we go round and round on the merry go round of miscommunication.
The science behind global warming has most frequently been promoted by voices on the left. Al Gore, in particular, has done more than anyone to call attention to the environmental concerns the human race must address. He has done a lot of good, but unfortunately, since he is seen as a figure so clearly established on the left, the polarizing dynamics of mutual contempt mean that some people will reject the call for a radical reduction in carbon dioxide emissions simply because it came most loudly from the lips of Al Gore. They will point to a couple of places where Gore may have mistated the science, and use these to discount the overall truth of what he had to say.
Though I believe that what Al Gore has to say is largely true, I think he bears some responsibility for creating the polarized situation in which we find ourselves. So does George W. Bush. So do we all. Wherever we are more concerned with being “right” than being persuasive of those who disagree with us, wherever we are more concerned with rallying those who already agree with us than in striving for a common consensus, we have contributed to the problem.
I went to a vigil last year to protest the war in Iraq. A man came by to stage his own counter protest in support of the war. With some glee, certain members of the vigil began mocking and berating the man, which of course, simply lead him to be all the more vitriolic in his rants. What good did this do?
So once more, let’s listen to Miller’s words: “If a person senses that you do not like them, that you do not approve of their existence, then your religion and your political ideas will all seem wrong to them. If they sense that you like them, then they are open to what you have to say.” p. 220.
Maybe Al Gore and George Bush should sit down over tea and crumpets out of sight of everyone, and share with one another the scariest and funniest moments in their lives. Maybe the war protestor and the war supporter should sit down over Chinese food and talk about what it felt like when they had their hearts broken. There’s no telling what might happen when we discover we actually like the person who disagrees with us.