The Death of Discussion

by Deb DeArmond

“So you’re pro-life, Deb. Right?” The inquiry came from the back seat.

“Yes. I am, Jason.”

“And pro death penalty, too, I assume?”

“Nope. I don’t support the death penalty,” I replied.

“Really???? Well that’s kind of odd for a conservative Christian, isn’t it? I mean, you would identify as a conservative Christian, wouldn’t you?” Others in the car began to take note of the conversation.

“I am a Christ follower, yes. I am fairly conservative in my political views. They often seem to get tangled up together. But yes, I am a Christian and I am conservative,” I felt the need to separate them for some reason.

“Right. And most conservative Christians support both the death penalty and pro-life – don’t you think? That seems to be the case. Why not you?” He leaned forward to hear, as did the others in the car.

“I am pro-life for the same reason I don’t support the death penalty. I don’t believe that the decision to take a life is ours to make. That’s up to God.” It was quiet for a moment.

“That’s far too rational. You are much too reasonable. I can’t debate this with you,” was his reply.

And the conversation ended just as quickly as it had begun.

I love Jason dearly. He’s funny, genuine, wildly creative, with unending curiosity about a great many things. He’s one of the most talented people I know. I love working with him and always look forward to time together.

He is also someone who has been seriously hurt by “faith.” His choices in life have not lined up with what others, according to their faith, have required. And so he has been rejected. My heart aches for him in that experience. It’s wrong. Plain and simple.

One of Jason’s other traits is his love of debate. He is very well read and able to debate with great dexterity. I was taken by surprise when he asked about my beliefs. And I was disappointed that he wasn’t inquiring as a chance to know me better and understand my heart. He was hoping to debate with me. When the possibility seemed unlikely, the conversation was over.

To be honest, with a car full of onlookers, it was a bit of a relief. Nevertheless, it got me to thinking.  What has happened to discussion? Where is healthy dialogue and the exchange of thoughts and beliefs?

Have you noticed this pattern in your conversations? What about on television and in the news outlets? Think about topics political, social, cultural, and spiritual. Is there a genuine desire to understand others, and grasp their perspectives through dialogue? To appreciate someone’s opinion, even when it doesn’t line up with your own because you’ve engaged in a discussion that allowed you to see into their thinking? To be able to say, “Well, I don’t agree with you, but I respect your right to believe as you do. Mostly, I appreciate your willingness to help me understand your perspective.”

I’ve seen a trend that disturbs me beyond belief. I first noticed it, believe it or not, on Facebook. Someone would post a question or provocative statement or pose an issue and invite opinions. And before you know it, it becomes a free for all, a melee, with one forceful, all-knowing statement after another. Crashing the party of anyone holding a different perspective, and doing so with aggression and insult.

Where did that come from?

Each cites their sources, their proof, or their expert. Unfortunately, we pick the ones that strengthen our position and eliminate all others. While some may claim a specific news outlet or expert and dismiss the rest, others cite the Bible and refuse anything else.

And in the course of the aggression, the insults, the ugliness and the dismissal, nobody is listening.

No one is gaining insight or understanding. I’m not suggesting that we don’t have a right to hold to our “expert”, but it benefits us to know why others think the way they do. I’m not likely to be influenced by someone who is insulting me and questioning my intelligence. I’m even less likely to consider their opinion as viable or allow it to impact my perspective.

The Internet allows us to have “discussions” without having to look someone in the eye and call them idiots, right to their face. And that’s a problem.

Discussion is a dying art. Dialogue is fading from our experience. It’s being replaced by debate in its unhealthiest form: not debate to make us think and broaden our understanding. Debate to shut others down, to drown out the voices of those who hold a different view, who think differently, behave differently, live differently.

When was the last time you had a hearty discussion with someone, one where there was clearly a gap in the opinions held by the parties present? How much listening was taking place? How respectful were the people involved in stating their own perspectives and in their responses to others? A discussion, when concluded, left people clearer about the issue and thinking was broadened, no one was angry, and we were grateful for an exchange that allowed us to have been transparent and vulnerable with one another, because we believed people would not attack, deride or insult us?

My friend Jason has never been anything but open and respectful to hearing me in our discussions. It’s one of the things about our relationship, that although our belief systems are different, I genuinely value, yet I’m certain there are times when he may think, “how could she really believe that?”

And just so I am really clear, I’m no fonder of avoidance as a way to polite relationship. Not saying it is every bit as bad in my book, as saying it in a way that demeans or damages. “If you don’t have anything nice to say…..” I think it’s possible to speak up without transgressing mother’s motto. You don’t have to be not nice to share your thoughts.

How as followers of Christ will we ever reach a world hungry for Him if we don’t know who they are? If we don’t care enough to understand their hurts, their desires, their fears and hopes? To know them, we have to listen to their hearts and we can’t do that while making our point.

I realize I’m taking the high road. And for those who know me, they may think, “what’s she doing there? That’s not familiar territory – perhaps she took a wrong turn!” I’ve been in discussions where I haven’t always practiced this, especially when provoked. And I’ve seen the damage it can do. I just don’t want to be part of that ever again.

I don’t have advice for how the world can get to that place. I do know this: I will not betray the willingness of one brave enough to express themselves to me, regardless of how I may feel about their opinion, their perspective or their belief. I will hold myself to a respectful response and will request they do the same. I will seek understanding and insight into the opinions held by others, so that I may gain greater knowledge of who they are. I will share my beliefs clearly and with conviction and encourage others to do the same.

And because I believe it will only happen when we decide to make it a point of commitment, I will discontinue a conversation when attack and anger take the place of genuine dialogue and desire for shared understanding.

This is not easy. I think it is possible. What do you think?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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0 thoughts on “The Death of Discussion

  1. Well said, Deb! Well said but not so easy to accomplish. This would require a firm grasp on emotions…defensive emotions that rise up when we feel threatened, stupid, or indignant. And it would be required by ALL parties in the discussion. It is something to ponder, this, “All things to all men” that Paul spoke of…without compromising my standards, watering down my testimony, or feeling like I’m being unfaithful to Jesus. Don’t get me wrong, I agree with you completely – I simply know myself…and I will be thinking on these things. 🙂

    • Katie – I don’t know how I missed this previously. I agree wholeheartedly with you that this is not easy. Which is why it’s not done often. We would indeed need a rather high level of self-awareness of when we can no longer continue a conversation in a reasonable manner and are verging on an emotional response. However, I don’t agree completely that ALL parties have to be “there”. It is possible to withdraw from an unreasonable or emotionally disrespectful interaction. What I have also experienced is that the one communicating maturely and respectfully can sometimes bring the other party “down out of the rafters”. Heat is tough to maintain if it’s not returned and sometimes the disparity between the two becomes obvious and the individual can return to a more respectful, appropriate mode.