Happy Birthday, United States of America!
So, America is great. The women’s soccer team rocks. There are lots of states with different flavors of culture mixed all up in them. We have freedoms hard to find in some other places in the world. People don’t like to mess with the USA too much, and I like that. People who start with nothing can find opportunities to make a name for themselves. There’s room to grow for sure. There’s debate about how that growth should happen here in the good ol’ U. S. of A. In fact, there’s debate about how everything should proceed. I used to debate. I understand the importance at looking at both sides of an issue, and I see the value in a person valiantly defending something s/he believes is right, just, or best.
But here is what I wish for my country, on a day when we celebrate our independence. I wish for us all to be more considerate of each other—less selfish, more compassionate, a little more gracious, and certainly quicker to hold our tongue. (I recognize the irony of speaking about holding one’s tongue while writing a blog.) This idea came to me while talking with a friend the other day. She commented about the difference between analyzing something with critical thinking and having a critical spirit.
When we think critically about issues and topics, we become capable of forming well-thought-out opinions, founded on some sort of evidence. To speak with someone who disagrees with me is to open the door for intelligent conversation where two people may part in disagreement but not on bad terms. In fact, in a gracious conversation, I might learn more about the other side, thereby increasing my awareness of the world around me and the myriad opinions that exist therein. In a conversation driven by critical thinking, one need not feel compelled to finally agree with an opposing point of view, but feel value in being heard and grant dignity of person to another by choosing to listen with respect.
When we act motivated by a critical spirit, there is generally less time and room for listening to and understanding the other side of the argument. Assumptions are made, positions are held fast, and our great desire to be right demands the stamping down of anything contrary to our held beliefs and opinions. Judgment reigns. Pride swells. People are misunderstood, broken down, and divided. Those who are attacked get defensive. Those who are on the attack dig deep in an effort to win the day. But the reality is that nobody wins.
I feel like our culture is very accommodating to “critical spirit” type conversations these days. Possibly it is because people can voice harsh opinions online with anonymity. Possibly it is because the Internet has provided an easier audience to the strongly opinionated. Possibly it is because people are wounded by being disrespected in some way and so they can get fiery about making their voice and opinion known. Whatever the reason, it feels hostile whenever I see talking heads argue rudely on television or glance at the comments section of an opinionated online article. People think it is okay to be mean when they criticize others. It’s really not. And may God forgive me for any mean-hearted criticism that has stirred in my heart.
I’m a softy, and I like people to get along, so that’s why I wish people would be kind in the way they disagree. I recognize not everyone will always agree on everything, and that healthy debate is good, and that differences of opinion stretch us and help us grow. Passion isn’t evil. (And it’s a good thing because there are a lot of passionate people with strong ideas in my family.) I dearly love people who have opposite opinions than I have on different issues and beliefs. When we talk, we try to consider each other’s hearts as well as our minds. It is possible to disagree in a civil manner, respecting the one who opposes your ideas. It is possible to think critically and speak passionately and disagree heartily and still not degrade the person with whom you can’t see eye-to-eye. It might be personal, and disagreement still might hurt, but it doesn’t have to cut deep and build tall walls.
So, as a proud American, I say thank you to everyone who has fought for my freedom to have a personal opinion and hold to a particular faith. I want to care well for that freedom, and respect the fact that everyone else in this country has the same right as I do. I’m thankful that I can fearlessly “love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.” And on our country’s birthday, may we all grant each other the gift of “loving our neighbor as ourselves,” even when we disagree. May the golden rule reign.
God bless America.