Stuff I’m Thinking About, Part 1

I have this small stack of paper scraps that are the beginning fragments of blog posts. I think a lot about what’s going on in the world, both far away and closer to home, and I often feel like I want or need to say or do something. One way I cope is by grabbing the nearest scrap of paper and jotting down my thoughts, trying to make some sense of what often feels like it makes no sense. Here are three of those fragments (more to come another time):

The greater good, or “to vote or not to vote,” revisited:

Not long before our April 26 primary election here in Pennsylvania, I wrote that I am tempted not to vote this year, but I don’t want to wake up the day after the election, not having voted, only to find that someone I believe could do great harm to the country and the values for which it stands has been elected president. I still feel the same way, but the moral quandaries continue.

What do you do when faced with choices you don’t like, or with the knowledge that any vote will be a compromise of one value or another? Both major party candidates are flawed – one of them way out of proportion to the other, in my opinion. One of them will be elected in November, no matter what third party candidates optimistically want us to believe. None of those third party candidates excites me anyway, and I don’t want to run the risk of helping to elect the worst of the two major party candidates by voting third party. Not voting at all runs the same risk. Perhaps not voting washes my hands of responsibility for the outcome (“don’t blame me, I didn’t vote”), but it doesn’t feel like “cleanliness” is an option this time.

One of the third party candidates suggests, “Don’t vote for the lesser of two evils [meaning Trump or Clinton]; vote for the greater good [meaning herself and the values and policies she espouses].” Putting aside my discomfort with calling people “evil,” it’s not clear to me what the greater good is this year. Is the greater good not participating, not voting, but rather focusing on living the right way, practicing my values and my faith, regardless of who is elected president? There’s certainly integrity in that. Or might it be voting against a candidate I consider dangerous by voting for the other candidate who I don’t fully support but whose flaws are much less egregious and who I actually like in many ways? I honestly don’t know the answer. I understand why one’s conscience could lead to not voting at all, coming as I do from a faith tradition that historically shunned voting because of the compromises it entails and the knowledge that the coming of God’s kingdom does not depend on who is or isn’t elected president of the United States. What feels right for me at this moment, however, is to vote against the candidate I consider unfit and dangerous by voting for the other.

Agreeing to disagree:

After a disagreement between two of my Facebook friends ended with one of them saying, “we’ll just have to agree to disagree,” I started thinking about what that means. On the one hand, agreeing to disagree is often crucial to maintaining relationships, and helps to avoid tension and focus on what unites us rather than divides. This is particularly important within families. Agreeing to disagree is also a fundamental recognition of our common humanity, and helps us recognize the essential worth and dignity of people regardless of whether or not we agree on everything. We are all in this life together and trying to do what we believe is right. Diversity of thought is good, enriches our understanding of the world, and helps us clarify our own thinking.

On the other hand, sometimes it feels like agreeing to disagree cuts off the conversation and stops the ongoing exploration of why we believe what we believe. It’s the equivalent of saying, “I don’t want to talk about this anymore.” This is particularly frustrating when one party in the disagreement believes the subject is vitally important and the conversation should not end.  Agreeing to disagree also doesn’t always help us understand why the person thinks as he or she does, or what experiences shaped his or her views.

Words matter:

I’ve written before about how words do hurt, despite the old ditty. I shared personal anecdotes of when words did hurt me. And I’ve written a defense of political correctness in which I concluded: “At its best, political correctness reminds us of the real people who are at the other end of our words. It makes us think before we speak. It helps keep our discourse, whether spoken or written, less inflammatory and more civil. It includes rather than excludes, and it should make us think about how we might be using our personal power and privilege to demean and minimize the feelings of others.”

Reading through the comments on Facebook or on online newspapers can be really discouraging, to put it mildly. I am regularly almost brought to tears by the cruelty and hatred of those who obviously don’t think of the real people on the other end of their comments, or don’t care. The phenomenon of “internet trolls” is something I simply can’t understand (see Time‘s recent article, “How Trolls Are Ruining the Internet”). I regularly ask myself, “What is wrong with people? Have they never heard of the golden rule? How would they feel if they or someone they loved were on the receiving end of such verbal bullying? What is there about our culture that encourages and rewards this kind of behavior?”

I am reminded of Bible verses I learned a long time ago:

  • “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles” (Matthew 15:18).
  • “The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). (The context here is “each tree is known by its fruit.”)
  • “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, that your words may give grace to all who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).

Of course, this last verse is preceded in the same paragraph with these words: “Putting away falsehoods, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors.” I long for political discourse that is honest, that doesn’t throw truth to the wind and repeat lies upon lies upon lies. I don’t want to live in a post-truth world. I also believe that speaking the truth is important when we believe that great wrong is being done. And that’s where I am frequently confronted with the tension between forthrightly denouncing unacceptable and despicable attitudes and behaviors (speaking the truth) and still affirming the essential worth and dignity of the person (see “My Internal Political Struggle” for more on this). Words matter.


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5 thoughts on “Stuff I’m Thinking About, Part 1

  1. Thank you for collecting all those scraps of paper into this thoughtful blog article, Harriet. Your thoughts on voting in the 2016 election, the sad fact that “political correctness” is deemed a bad thing by a significant segment of our society, and the death of truth in this election cycle earned several “amens” from me.

  2. Your scraps of paper must be bigger than mine. I too think about writing topics almost all the time. But this year, I am overcome with a weariness and a deep-seated fear that things are unraveling so much they may never again be knit together again. (Just wanted to throw a pleasing reference in there.)

  3. Well said, Harriet. On the last scrap of paper — indeed truth does matter. As I have said elsewhere, what we see depends on where we stand (perspective matters), but what we see is real and perspective is not everything. We can measure our view against reality itself, and — by listening to other voices with different perspectives — we can get closer to reality. That is one way to approach truth.

  4. Pingback: Stuff I’m Thinking About, Part 2: Lessons from Germany – Pieces of Peace

  5. Pingback: Post-Election Angst – Pieces of Peace

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