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A Plea for Respectful, Logical Dialogue in America

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America is now more polarized politically than she has been since the Civil War. There are lots of theories providing reasons for this increasing division, but this article will highlight one reason that is dangerous on many levels. Over the past century, there has been a gradual shift in America toward a tendency of allowing oneself to be ruled by the emotions instead of by the mind. The source of this shift is debatable, but some would ascribe it to the transition in cultural and educational philosophies from classical/traditional to modern/progressive. Classical education emphasizes systematic learning in an interrelated way according to a child's natural growth and maturation process through the trivium with an emphasis on assimilating facts, asking questions, seeking and discerning truth, and defending points of view with logical, persuasive rhetoric.

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)

Modern education is more child-centered, less interrelated, gives more heed to human emotions, often suggests that truth is relative, and with the rise of high stakes standardized testing, has been making it necessary for instructors to focus more on teaching students what to think or memorize for a test instead of training students in how to think critically by engaging in rhetorical exercises. Some of the same ideas that have infiltrated the schools have also influenced the culture.

As a result of this cultural and educational shift, modern generations tend to choose an ideology that feels good, is convenient, or promotes their own self-interests, and then proceed to believe whatever the media and politicians who are biased the same way say in support of it. Emotionally led advocates will memorize talking points without taking time to logically examine the accuracy of such statements or the long term implications of such policies or practices. Dangerous choices are made when one's entire worldview is shaped by emotions instead of by truth. For example, if truth is deemed relative to a student who considers himself to be the center of the universe (a possible consequence of child-centered parenting or child-centered education), a depressed teen who feels angry because he was bullied at school could decide that a mass school shooting targeting those bullies would be justified since he is his own god who defines his own truth while denying the absolute truth that all life is sacred. Thankfully, that is a worst case scenario. Usually, such emotional decision making results in sharp political or religious division, intense relational struggles between friends, spouses, or family members, and angry name calling which hinders any helpful communication.

How much better would it be if those with opposing viewpoints could come together peaceably, seeking both to listen and to be heard with the ultimate goal of building mutual understanding that will promote the common good? Understanding why someone holds a certain viewpoint does not necessitate agreement, but it does build mutual respect. America is a melting pot of diverse ethnicity, sociological/economic backgrounds, educational pursuits, and vocational skill sets. The potential synergy of all this diversity coming together with hearts focused more on the common good than on one's own self-interests is immeasurable. Yet all potential benefits are lost when citizens choose instead to emotionally attack those with different views instead of discussing ideas with thoughtful, practical, and respectful rhetoric.

To all responsible, educated citizens and especially to those who claim to follow Christ, please accept this challenge to engage in meaningful, thoughtful, loving dialogue while removing emotional attack words which disrespect, shut down conversation, and tend to be used in error or out of context anyway. Can this generation exchange ideas without using insults, expletives, or other emotionally charged words and phrases such as "racist", "intolerant","entitled", "privileged", "hater", "extremist", "Communist", "greedy", "lazy", "Kool-aid drinker", "left-wing", "right-wing", "heartless", or "baby killer"? With so many serious crises all around the world and along U.S. borders, Americans need to unite under their shared values and under what is true (since feelings often lie) while choosing loving kindness over angry hostility.

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)

As Aesop is attributed with saying, "United we stand, divided we fall."

Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. (Matthew 12:25, NIV)

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