Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What Happend to Civility?

Here’s a not entirely hypothetical situation I’d like to discuss.
Suppose a friend came over to your house unannounced. You invite them in and they begin to tell you their views on what is wrong with everything from your politics to how to you raise your children. They quote celebrities and politicians to back up their position. You listen politely for a while. Then when they are finished you attempt to point out a few misquotations and other errors in the facts they presented to you. They then get insulted and react as if you are personally attacking them. They make one last speech and storm out of your house telling you that they never want to hear from you again.
The above example is an amalgam of several different events that have actually happened to me in the last couple months. It sounds absurd doesn’t it? But they really happened, several times. If this had happened to you how would you feel? Suppose this was a beloved family member, who you had great respect for, you just disagreed on politics? In my situation each time I just sat there stunned. Where did that come from? Why did they bring this to me?
Now I have concealed one small detail until now. These encounters didn’t happen in person. They happened via email. Yet other than that the details are correct. Why does the fact that their message came via an email excuse them the civility they might have granted me in person? Is it really so all or nothing with some people? What has happened to this world that we are so readily willing to cut all ties with people because we don’t march in lock step with them? Is their value as a person so contingent upon me accepting the premises of the email that they mass forwarded to everybody in their address book?
I share this because I am truly saddened. There are people that I have known for decades who have abandoned having any relationship with me because we disagree. What happened to having a civil disagreement? In many of my cases I didn’t even get around to stating my opinion. I was just correcting the facts they presented. It doesn’t bother me that we disagree on some points. But why can’t we discuss the issue civilly?
In stark contrast to these examples I do have a few close friends with whom I frequently disagree. I enjoy discussing things with them. I know that neither one of us is likely to have a complete change of opinion but the conversation is stimulating. And I believe that we are willing to accept when our opinions are based on flawed data and reconsider. I want to thank these friends for accepting me as one who is still looking for answers. I enjoy the search. I hope I never get so many answers that I no longer need the search. And I hope that no matter how much we may disagree you will still walk away knowing that I still value you as a person.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Different Monitors

I’ve been looking at buying a flat panel monitor for my wife’s computer. I had a friend of mine email me a link to the monitor he has. In the email he was bragging about the color definition on his monitor. I looked at the monitor online and then, with tongue firmly planted in my cheek, responded, “The color definition doesn’t look any better than my monitor.” He laughed and thought it was pretty funny and then suggested we head over to a computer store and look at one in real life.

The incident reminded me of the TV commercials where you’d see a whole bank of other TV’s and you get to compare the picture quality. As a kid I remember remarking to my dad about how stupid those ads were. We never even had a color TV so I got a kick out of a Magnavox commercial showing a bunch of color TVs and I only saw 6 relatively identical black and white images. Today it’s the same thing. You can brag about your 1080P HD images all you want. Showing me a picture of it is not going to convince me unless I already have a 1080P HD TV. And in that case I don’t need the advertisement.

Well y’all know how I think. I couldn’t help but take this experience and extrapolate it out to other aspects of life. How often do we try to relate to somebody else and not take into account how they would see it? Each of us has certain filters that we view the world through. Expose somebody to a new idea and they are going to experience it differently than we are based on those filters. Suppose a friend were confined to a wheelchair. She would likely see a youtube video of a rock climber with a whole different attitude than I would. It would remind me to get off my butt and work out a little bit more, but it may bring nothing but discouragement to her.

I see this same thing come up all the time in discussions. Take the topic of climate change. Many people are only looking through the filter of politics. And it is a very political issue. I have many friends who refuse to accept the science behind climate change because they are afraid of what the political ramifications might be, higher taxes, increased cooperation with other countries, etc, etc. All of these are honest political concerns and there is nothing wrong with debating them. When I put on my political filter I see much the same image that they do. But if we could look at it with another monitor, if we could set the political filters aside and look at the science alone, ignoring the politics for now, I think it’s much easier to see the real image.

Lately there has been a lot of press about some remarks that were made by an LDS general authority at last week’s General Conference. I think we have the same thing going on to a great extent with this issue too. Those in the gay community have their filter that they are looking through and the faithful members of the church and church leaders are looking through another. Both sides seem to be talking about the same event yet they each see it in completely different colors. I have my own opinions about this issue too. But I recognize that my perspective may not be any better than the others.

It’s all too easy to jump to conclusions based on just our perspective. I’m not going to completely dismiss purchasing the monitor that my friend sent me until I check it out in person. Similarly I try not to completely dismiss anyone’s opinion or idea until I’ve at least attempted to view it through the same filters that they have. Now I still may not buy the new monitor or accept the other opinion. But at least I have made a solid attempt to view it in the most realistic way before I dismiss it or accept it.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

"His gentle means of sculpting souls took me years to understand"

I really miss you, Dad. I could use some help with your legacy.

Monday, October 04, 2010


I had an interesting discussion with a coworker last week. He had just driven back from out west and was relating his trip details to a few of us. Having driven across the country more times than I can count I threw my two cents into the conversation. I was curious as to which route he had taken. It turns out that he had taken one of the same stretches of road that I always take. He commented on how much he liked the road and I remarked about how annoying the road is.
Hwy-78 from Birmingham to Memphis will someday be incorporated into the interstate system. But currently the road is incomplete. The divided hwy part of it starts about 12 miles north of Birmingham and ends a few miles south of Memphis. Consequently if you hit either section at rush hour it can be miserable. Even if you miss rush hour your average speed is severally limited due to the miles of traffic lights.
Well this coworker commented that he just loved the road and I said it was moderately annoying because of the incomplete sections.

Him, “I just drove it yesterday. They’ve completed it.”

Me, “Well they must have completed it since I drove it in July”

Him, “It’s complete all the way except for those 12 miles in Birmingham and a few miles in Memphis.”

At this point he threw his elbows back and was waiting for me to respond.

Me, “I don’t know what else to say. You’ve just completely conceded my only point and you act like we still have something to disagree over.”

This was just a recent dramatic example, but I see people attaching qualifiers to statements and not realizing that the qualifier removes most if not all of the original meaning from the statement. A generic example would be something like, “All psychic predictions come true except those that don’t.” Okay? The statement would seem to be rather powerful, at first. Then the qualifier removed all of the bite. Such was the discussion with my coworker. The road is complete except for the parts that aren't. Once he had qualified the statement to exclude all the annoying parts of hwy-78 we were left with only the nice parts to discuss.

What I find frustrating is that in these types of situations I always feel like the other party walks away feeling like we still have some disagreement when we don’t. In this case we both enjoy the completed sections of hwy-78 and find the traffic lights through both big cities rather annoying.