What kind of people…?

When I got home from work last night, I was shocked to see some of the news reports about bricks being thrown through windows and threats being received by folks who voted for the health care reform bill.

What kind of people are we becoming?

Once upon a time it was possible for folks who disagreed politically to do vehemently–and civilly–and still be friends. While people had strongly-held beliefs, they were also aware that even those they vehemently disagreed with were people of integrity–and held their positions out of a deep desire to do what they felt was best for everyone.

When did that change? I’m not sure. But it has–and we are all the poorer for it.

Now, instead of seeing each other as people of integrity who have differing opinions / beliefs as to the best course of action–and working to find places of agreement and ways in which they can work together, we have come to see those who disagree with us as “the enemy”…as someone whose views (and sometimes who personally) need to be destroyed for the “right” perspective to win.

Instead of personal friendships that transcend political or religious differences–and in so doing, make it possible to work together–we turn our backs on those who differ from us…and in so doing, we lose the ability to see another part of the picture.

When this happens, we are all losers. We dig in our feet…draw lines in the sand…and close our ears to learning another part of the truth.

In the United States, we’ve seen this occur over and over politically. Whichever party is in power demonizes the other…accusing them of abusing power and using underhanded tactics to get their own way. It really doesn’t matter which party is in power—the attacks and accusations are the same. I’ve sometimes thought that we have lost something important when we lost the concept of “loyal opposition”—of seeing people who raise questions and issues that we disagree with as people of good will whose perspectives we can learn from…and who may be raising questions we hadn’t thought about…

We don’t have to follow the same pattern! We come from enough different backgrounds that we are going to see things differently. Our experiences make us who we are. That is not a negative unless we choose to make it so. We can either share our beliefs (whether they deal with religion or politics) in ways that help us learn more from and about each other—or we can slam doors of discussion and dialogue shut.

There is a story that my father (a minister) often used. It goes something like this:

There was once a wise old man sitting at the gate of an ancient city. A young traveler stopped before entering the city and asked the old man, “What kind of people live in this town?” The wise man answered with a question, “What kind of people were in the town you just came from?”

“Oh, they were liars and cheats and thugs and drunks, terrible people,” the young traveler replied. The old man shook his head, “The people in this town are the same way.”

Later another stranger paused to ask the same question, and again the wise man questioned his questioner, “What kind of people did you just leave?”

The second traveler answered, “Oh, I left a fine town. The people were good and kind and honest and hardworking.” The wise man smiled and said, “The people in this town are the same way.”

What kind of people do we want to be? to find?

The choice is ours.

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