Like most people, I’ve got everyone from close friends to little known contacts and acquaintances as ‘friends’ on Facebook (and other social media).
I truly enjoy when they share their opinions. And in the days leading up to election day (and in the days since) many of them have taken the risk of sharing their opinions, frustrations, hopes, fears, etc., even more.
This isn’t to say it’s been easy: the opinions expressed on my Facebook feed seem at times to come from different universes.
One example will suffice–and perhaps startle: the day after the election, one person of color posted that, if you are not presently fearing for yourself and for your family, it’s only because you have privilege; they spoke of Trump’s election as the tragic triumph of sexism, racism and homophobia. Not far from their comment was another post, written by a person of the same color, celebrating, “On Tuesday the pollsters failed, and prayer prevailed.” Later a third person of the same color, seeking to exonerate Trump of any accusations of racism, shared a news article explaining why a surprising number of minorities had voted for Trump.
I especially appreciate these persons sharing, because of–and here I share my own opinion–the very perverse rhetoric of ‘tolerance’ that has silenced so many in America today: people are afraid to dialogue about issues that are often both intricate and intimate; fear rules the American public square. (For more on the silencing effect of ‘tolerance’, click here.)
Given this silencing, it is all the more important for each of us to take the risk to express our opinion. So thank you for sharing yours, and please don’t stop.
But I’d like to suggest a few ways that we can share our opinion more effectively.
So before sharing your opinion on Facebook or wherever, here are four questions to ask yourself:
1. Have I really understood those with whom I disagree?
As a pastor, when someone comes to me for counseling, at first I’m really not that interested in the truthfulness, or accuracy, of anything they’re saying. Rather, I’m interested in getting inside their world, in order to grasp how and why they see the world in the way they do.
If I don’t understand them, if I haven’t humbly, proactively, patiently, and charitably listened to them, then to whatever extent they are misguided, I won’t be able to offer a more accurate, more life-giving way of interpreting their world.
And what’s true in good counseling is also true in good scholarship. Solid academic scholarship summarizes an opposing argument more clearly and even more compellingly than its proponents (hence, revealing its plausibility and persuasive power) and then respectfully shows not only the weaknesses of the argument but how its strengths can be better redeployed within another argument or framework.
But to do all that, one must truly have listened to opposing arguments. And listening is an act of love. (And, sadly, we scholars aren’t exactly known for love.)
Of course, when we post our opinion on Facebook, we’re offering neither therapy nor a thesis. But we are trying to help others by speaking what we think is true.
And to do that, we must understand them.
Importantly, here’s how you know you have listened enough and truly understand: an opposing argument has become plausible to you; you understand why it is so persuasive and attractive to them. You have felt the pull of its logical, emotional, and rhetorical power.
Such understanding engenders compassion, and compassion dignifies.
So before you post your opinion, ask: how well do I really understand those with whom I disagree? Be forewarned: this might just keep you from posting your opinion, and that might not be a bad thing. I suspect that more than a few of us, after posting our opinion of late, have sooner or later regretted it, and it leads to a bad decision: we think, “It’s better not to share my opinion at all.”
And, with all due respect, I couldn’t disagree with that more.
2. Am I asking genuine, conversation-creating questions?
There are few things more powerful than a good question. That’s why great communicators, like Socrates or Jesus of Nazareth, regularly use them (e.g., Jesus’ penetrating question, “Why do you call me ‘Lord’ and do not do what I say?”).
Genuine questions invite dialogue, simultaneously humbling ourselves (“I need help”) and dignifying others (“Maybe you can help me?”). They draw others in, setting the tone and often framing a difficult issue in a new light.
What’s more is that we can ask questions in almost any situation, even when lamenting or grieving (just read the Psalms, at least a quarter of which are lamentation, and notice how often the psalmist is asking genuine questions–indeed, tough questions–of God).
So consider using questions when sharing your opinion. Without compromising any of your convictions, you can create–rather than close down–a conversation. You can draw others in, rather than distance them.
And that, in and of itself, would be a win.
And the more you have understood the “other side” (see #1), the more genuine and conversation-creating your questions will be.
3. Am I pretending to know more than I really do?
There are (at least) two kinds of ignorance: studied and unstudied.
At an academic conference the exceptional scholar of 1st-century Judaism Morna Hooker was asked where she thought the Gospel of Mark had been written. She jokingly responded, “Somewhere in the Roman Empire.”
In other words, in all her vast research, she simply didn’t know–quite possibly because it can’t be known. This is studied ignorance, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Please hear me: good scholars, good leaders (especially pastors!), and good people are not afraid to say, “I don’t know.” Indeed, good scholars and good leaders are eager to be shown they are wrong.
Obviously studied ignorance is preferable to unstudied ignorance. But here’s the thing: we can’t all be experts. So it is also okay to admit your unstudied ignorance, something I regularly have to do from the pulpit.
What isn’t okay, however, is to pretend like we know more than we do. Indeed, even when we’ve learned something from a reputable source and we think we know it’s true, it’s wise, when sharing our opinion, to share the source. Why? Not only is it more transparent on our part, it can also help de-escalate the intensity or volatility of a discussion.
4. To the extent that I am right, why is that?
Central to Christianity is the idea that all of life–absolutely everything–is a gift: there is nothing that I have that I did not first receive.
This includes truth.
Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is written to some highly conflicted, highly over-confident Christians. (That these Christians were both conflicted and over-confident was hardly a coincidence.) At one point Paul asks a series of penetrating questions:
“What [or who] makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not first receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?”
These Corinthian Christians–like far too many of us Christians today–saw themselves as fundamentally different–i.e., as qualitatively better. Truth was something they had objectively intuited (or independently discovered), not something they had been given.
And in their interaction with others, it led to an air of boastful superiority. No wonder there was conflict.
And so, to the extent that we are actually right (and that’s debatable!), the truth that we do have is a gift: as prone to self-deception and presumption as we humans are, even (perhaps especially?) the most sophisticated among us often miss the truth, even when it’s staring us in the face. Indeed (and to speak more autobiographically), even when have the truth, I am still capable of bending and re-appropriating it to my own advantage.
At the heart of the Christian story–what Christians will soon recall in the Advent season–is that the One who is the Solution came down (all the way down), and we–every last one of us–thought that he was the Problem, and we treated him accordingly.
To the extent that we are part of the Solution it is only by God’s grace. What, then, makes us different from anyone else? Absolutely nothing.
So, please, share your opinion! I, and countless others, truly need it. Take the risk of being wrong. But before you do, first understand opposing arguments, then ask good questions and admit what you don’t know, keenly aware that however much you do know is an undeserved gift.