Saturday, February 4, 2017

Thin Skin

This morning I read an article that was re-posted on Twitter after being initially published in June. The article, by the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod's Publishing Technology division, talks about the value of quality debate and how it's been pushed aside so people can ignore the other side and only listen to the people with whom they agree.

I remember reading the article last summer, but this time it affected me a little more. Lately, I have found on Facebook that I am muting people who post pictures or memes that go against what I believe.

Why do I do that? It's not that I don't consider them a friend anymore, but I am pretty sick of them constantly posting those political comments.

The article made me realize that maybe I shouldn't mute people. Maybe I should try to have a conversation with them, and to make a statement over what I believe.

Unfortunately, I usually choose not to. I have a big problem: I am a terrible debater with very thin skin.

I have noticed this mostly when I am around my family. If I ever disagree with my brothers on something, I am going to get a big verbal beatdown because they just speak better than I do. A few years ago, it was very evident when I tried to defend something pretty petty: the Star Wars prequels. I wasn't saying they were Oscar-caliber, I was just saying they were "pretty decent."

Oh, man. That opened up the floodgates. Basically they both just took turns telling me how wrong I was, bringing up point after point after point. And all I could do was nod and go "Uh-huh," because eventually I realized that no matter what I brought up, they were going to disagree. I caved because I had nothing to say - I couldn't bring anything to my brain to back up my statement.

Now that I am getting more interested in politics, my fears of debate continue to grow. In the past few months I have had this phrase spoken to me three times by three different people: "Clinton lost, and the day after the election schools closed in some places because students were sad."

Do I have fire in my eyes as I defend people who are concerned that their civil rights are going to be compromised (and now we have evidence that their concerns were pretty valid)? No. Instead, I am so taken aback that I just go "Uh-huh" with a blank look on my face. Then I walk away and think of exactly the right thing to say. But it's too late.

Trying to debate through Facebook is incredibly difficult. I've seen that when people make a bold post. The comments consist of a few thoughtful posts that are well constructed in agreement, one or two thoughtful posts that are well constructed in disagreement, and a bunch of idiotic comments that are very rude.

Facebook used to be my chance to see family and friend updates, see funny posts, and enjoy the social aspect. Now, I see way more posts slamming the other side - "Get over it!" "Stop whining!" "How dare you support that!" Is that really what Facebook is going to be from now on?

As I think about it, I'm muting more people who share or make stupid comments like the ones I just made instead of the ones that state their thoughtful opinion whether I agree or not. But I'm still hesitant to post anything that would require someone to take sides because I think I'm going to say something incorrectly or cause a lot of people to pile on their disagreements and tell me how I'm wrong.

I am not tough. I have beliefs but I don't state them. I have very thin skin. So how do I break out of that? How do I stand up for what I believe and have those "healthy debates" that will allow me to defend myself yet still appreciate the opposition? How do I set a good example for other people so that they don't think that posting stupid stuff is the right way to argue a point?

First of all, I watch other people do it. Even though I bashed my brothers earlier in this article (sorry, guys) they are two of the best debaters I know. They have beliefs and they defend. They respectfully disagree and bring up point after point. No wonder they're both pastors.

Second of all, I need to understand both sides. I am currently rewatching The West Wing and this time around I'm seeing that most of the time, Democrats and Republicans are viewed in both positive and negative lights. It is liberal in most points, but it often doesn't villify the conservatives - by the end of the episode you get both sides of the story. The conversations made by the characters show quality discussion that isn't going to end with one side changing its mind - they're just both going to begrudgingly acknowledge each other's viewpoints and move on.

Stuff like that doesn't just happen on scripted television - I need to see it happen more often, and I need to make myself read and view pieces that support the other side. It won't change my mind, but it will make me understand them better.

That's why I was so glad to witness the Women's March on Chicago in person. I didn't agree with the marchers on every point, but I saw people declaring their beliefs and it helped me solidify my personal position on the same matter.

Finally, I need to stop clamming up when opportunities arise. Someday God is going to hand me an opportunity on a silver platter, and I need to snatch it up and not ignore it due to "fear of being proven wrong."

Debate is healthy. It makes people more well-rounded. Too much in our world today people are insistent on listening to only their viewpoint and vehemently insisting the other side is incredibly wrong. If I can show my students how healthy debate is supposed to happen, which will help me personally thicken my skin and improve my personal stance, then it gives me hope that in the future that kind of debate will be going strong.

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