'Agree to Disagree?' Not Any More
I work at an opinion polling company. Men and woman of all ages, races, creeds, and lifestyle choices come into our conference rooms to give their opinions on various products, services, and ideas. Do you prefer Bounty paper towels or Brawny paper towels? What's your favorite TV show and why does it appeal to you? Is gun control a good thing or a bad thing? These are the kinds of interviews we conduct for various clients who are interested in finding out how to improve their products or address public opinion. And even though people in these groups can have different opinions about the subject matter, they are allowed to voice their viewpoint and give their reasons. As I said, it's important for our clients to find out why people choose one product over another, or think one idea is more worthy than another.
And even though a client personally may not think and choose the way the person being interviewed thinks and chooses, by listening to their responses, the client finds out how to better improve their product or service. In other words, they have to keep an open mind, but also accept the thought-pattern of the respondent. They are not there to change their thinking, but to simply hear it and understand why they think the way they do.
In society today, however, when it comes to the big issues, that is not the case.
My boss and a fellow employee were discussing gay marriage and how wonderful it would be for the Supreme Court to legitimize it. Many in my office have been caught up in this wave of "making history" -- the excitement, the drama. And they believe one hundred percent that they are right and those who oppose them and their idea of "marriage" are wrong.
Now, I've known the opinions of my boss and many of my other fellow employees since I started this job several months back. I have never told them this, but I am one hundred percent opposed to their way of thinking. However, I understand why they feel the way they do and know that nothing I can say to them will get them to change their point of view. So, I don't discuss the topic at all.
Knowing this about them does not stop me from liking any of them or working enthusiastically with the team. Even though I know that their beliefs are wrong-headed, I feel that in a free country with free speech, they can certainly hold onto those beliefs. However, I also know that in America today, my opposing viewpoint will not be accepted in a "let's agree to disagree" manner. In fact, I know that there is a good chance that if they found out my view on gay "marriage" in particular, I would not only lose their friendship, but could quite easily lose my job (I work, after all, in fair, balanced, and open-minded New York City). I would not be granted the same respect and live-and-let-live attitude I afford them.
There was a book out in the late 60s called I'm Okay, You're Okay. A modern-day version of that book would be, I'm Okay, You're a Hater. No longer is a conservative's viewpoint "different" -- it's hateful.
Growing up in the suburbs, my parents used to host barbecues, with a backyard filled with their friends. Some were Democrats, some Republicans. Sometimes they would discuss the issues of the day, but even though they'd disagree, they'd still respect each other's opinions. At the end of the day, everyone would leave the party still friends.
By the time I graduated from college in the mid-1970s, I was thinking, "The number one thing that liberals hate is free speech." Liberals/Progressives know that in a "marketplace of ideas," people with common sense would never buy what they're peddling. So, their ideas need to be forced upon the masses.
Nowadays, we all know friends who have lost friends simply because they honestly shared their opinions on matters of current events and politics. Unless you're part of the popular viewpoint, the current wave of excitement or new wave of "making history," you're a hater and fit to be shunned.
So, where does that get us as a nation? There will be those who set the agenda with loud voices and intimidation tactics, and those who keep their mouths shut -- if they know what's good for them. There's almost a Germany-of-the-1930s feel in the air. It seems, America is spiraling downward and we all need to be concerned that there aren't enough Dietrich Bonhoeffers to stop the momentum.
St. James tells us that "the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." If there are any righteous people left, well, it's high time to pray.