Elections are another reminder of our divided times.
Nasty speech and rhetoric are no longer relegated to national elections; they seem to have seeped into the state, county, city, and school elections as well.
One can see them now in responses to tragedies from many of our local and national officials. It is understandable to respond in unbridled anger when asked to about a tragedy such as the recently occurred in Uvalde.
However, our elected officials are supposed to represent the best of us; they are, in a sense, supposed to be our paragons – those we deem worthy to follow and emulate. And we should keep that in mind when we approach the ballot box.
As I wrote a couple years ago in my column entitled, “Five Minutes for the Imago Dei,” from reading Alan Jacobs’ book, “How to Think,” and from my own reading in the Book of James, I’ve thankfully been able to employ a useful tool that helps when I’m tempted to get heated when discussing politics with friends and family.
The “Give it Five Minutes” rule – at least when I heed it – forces me to tamper my responses with time and prayer instead of relying on my wit.
A funny retort at another’s expense may satisfy my pride in the moment, but strained relations with family and friends is the harvest I reap when I don’t respond with grace and truth.
But in the year since employing that rule, I’ve found another useful tool to place in the tool belt of rhetorical strategies.
It is a thought experiment of sorts; try to find something virtuous, praiseworthy, or an admirable attribute or quality in a public figure (or friend or loved one) you disagree with or even despise.
Also, look for something to criticize in someone you adore. Look for a character flaw (or flaws) in someone you hold in high regard.
You may learn something about them – and yourself – in the process. Your friends and enemies are human beings, and human beings, without exception, have flaws. They have virtues as well. So it does the mind no good to mindlessly support someone it loves, and automatically condemn anything that comes from one it abhors.
People are more intricate than the labels we often affix to them.
Yet this is what the mind does. We want our heroes to be flawless and our villains to be evil incarnate. We don’t want the cognitive dissonance that comes from knowing the other side may have a valid point, and that we, or those we support politically, may be wrong about a particular issue.
Using this thought experiment can help us see the humanity in those we are tempted to deplore. In some cases, it may also reveal that yes, polemics is correct. Some people do need to receive a harsh rebuke. But even then, it should be a rebuke given in love, and a desire to come to reason with each other.
It’s why being informed through watching the candidates in public debate is necessary. It’s also why reading or watching the actual news – not the talking heads we see on channels such as CNN, MSNBC, or FOX or NEWSMAX – is necessary. Voting decisions – national and local – should be made after careful consideration, not because some talking head told you what to think or how to vote.
Taking the time to get into the mind of those you disagree with, to reflect on their reasons for taking a particular stance on an issue, will help you better understand them as a human. And it serves as a reminder they are indeed a human being created in the Imago Dei.
Especially during these trying times where violent rhetoric and action seem to be on the rise, it is easy to look for the quick fixes, to say “anything is on the table” in order to fix issues of gun violence and crime.
But that road, as history proves time and time again, leads down dual paths of either fascism or communism, two paths that really are one because they both end in subjugation of its people. They both are alluring.
But if one goes toward their sirens call they end like the sailors who did not close their ears and were dashed upon the rocks of history. The French and Soviet Revolutions, modern Venezuela and China, and Germany and Italy during WWII. The desire for utopia (which literally means nowhere) always ends in dystopia.
As Edmund Burke noted nearly three centuries ago, be wary of those politicians who claim to have the answers to all of society’s ills and have no room for moderation or compromise or genuine debate in politics. An idea or opinion worth expressing is worth defending in debate. When debate ends, tyranny is not far behind.
The years before the American Civil War serve as a reminder and rebuke for our current political age.
In his project, “In the Valley of the Shadow,” Historian Edward L. Ayers charts how people living in the Great Valley that connected Pennsylvania and Virginia – friends, family, and neighbors – could go from an amiable existence into killing one another in war in the matter of a few years.
Through letters from civilians and soldiers, to speeches given by political pundits on both sides before and during the war, he shows how the Civil War came not simply from one decision, but a myriad of tiny choices made on both sides, which led to the bloodiest war in American history.
Remember, the road to civil war is not paved in an instant, but step by step, brick by brick, street by street, the long road is paved. Stop to consider if the road you are paving has turned into a one-way street before it’s too late.
Joseph Hamrick is a semi-professional writer and sometimes thinker. He lives in Commerce and serves as a deacon at Commerce Community Church C3).
He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org