Archives for posts with tag: civil discourse

In this diverse and rapidly changing world new words continue to make it into our collective vocabulary. One of the latest for me is “otherize.”

I have just become aware of the word, which isn’t even in the dictionary yet. However, it has been popping in and out of use over the past several years according to linguist Ben Zimmer, chair of  the New Words Committee at the American Dialect Society and a language columnist for the Wall Street Journal.

Zimmer says that otherize has a long history all the way back to the German philosopher Hegel, who wrote in the early 19th century about consciousness of the self vs. the other. By the early 20th century in English writing, the other turned into a verb to describe the act of excluding a person or a group from a particular norm. Thus the idea of treating someone as outside of a particular dominant social group or social norm is generally what is meant by the word otherize.

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Humans seem to have the tendency to put people into groups. This often creates an “Us vs. Them” mentality toward people who may be different from us in some way. One research report on a phenomenon called minimal group paradigm shows that people tend to favor a group bias even when they are categorized on relatively meaningless distinctions- eye color, what kind of paintings they like, or even the flip of a coin.

When we “otherize” we “polarize.” Something that’s been polarized has been split into two sides that are so different, it seems as though they’re from opposite ends of the earth — like the North Pole and the South Pole (www.vocabulary.com).

People are polarized by different ideas about government and social issues. Coke vs. Pepsi, Ford vs. Chevy, one sports team vs. another. There are many examples that polarize a population.

We need to be careful about blanket judgments. There may be people who we think are profoundly wrong, but it is not helpful to dismiss them because we disagree with them. It is possible to be passionate about something without stereotyping and demonizing individuals or groups of people with whom we disagree.

We must be careful of the “We/They” and “Us/Them” attitude. It is easy to think our way is better, our church is the “right” church, our behavior is more godly or patriotic than others. This mentality is destructive. Civil discourse and mutual respect are needed to counter otherizing.

The Apostle Paul said, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). All the major religions call people of faith to exercise mutual respect for their fellow human beings.he Center for Family Change offered suggestions on how to treat one marriage partner.

What is suggested applies equally in all relationships. The following paragraph is the advice from their website edited to apply to all persons.(http://www.centersforfamilychange.com/relationship_problems_respect.htm)

Mutual respect is a simple concept. It means you treat one another in a thoughtful and courteous way. It means you avoid treating each other in rude and disrespectful ways. You do not engage in name calling and do not insult or demean another person. It also means that you do not talk sarcastically to, or ignore or avoid the other person. Finally, mutual respect means that you view the opinions, wishes and values of the other person as worthy of serious consideration.

As a child I was taught that Jesus loved “all the children of the world.” I learned that all of them were “precious in his sight.” Surely that love continued as they grew up. If Jesus loved them, certainly we should love, serve, and respect all people too.

“By mutual respect, understanding and with good will we can find acceptable solutions to any problems which exist or may arise between us.” (Dwight D. Eisenhower)

Jamie Jenkins

 

A conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue. That’s why there are so few good conversations: due to scarcity, two intelligent talkers seldom meet. 

Truman Capote

Several years ago Henry H. Knight III and Don E. Saliers wrote a book entitled The Conversation Matters. Because it specifically addressed concerns in The United Methodist Church, the sub-title was Why United Methodists Should Talk With One Another. I regret that I gave away my copy of that book when I retired three years ago.

The current climate, both secular and religious, demonstrates the need for guidance as we discuss (debate) issues of significance for all people. It seems that we are more likely to yell AT one another than to talk TO one another, especially when it comes to “hot button” issues. Knight and Saliers offer wise counsel to everyone, not just the targeted denominational population. We need to learn, or re-learn, how to talk WITH one another. That is true in all segments of society.

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Christian conferencing was a cornerstone of the early Methodist Movement. John Wesley believed that Christians gathered together in conversation guided by the Holy Spirit could discern God’s will. Christian conferencing was one of the Means of Grace that Wesley taught to assist persons in their spiritual formation.

I believe that John Wesley was onto something that will work not only for Christians but for people of all religious or non-religious orientations. If people will “reason together,” the possibility of solutions to our plaguing problems are promising.

“Discussion is impossible with someone who claims not to seek the truth, but already to possess it.”
Romain Rolland, Above the Battle

The introduction to Knight and Saliers’ book said, “While applauding those of the left and right for their commitments to matters of conviction, the authors point out that the acrimonious and accusatory nature of current debates does little to forward the truth that both sides contend is at stake. The authors argue for the recovery of … a way of carrying on debate that is (1) true to principles believed to be of crucial importance and (2) open to the possibility of changing one’s mind. They argue for ‘speaking the truth in love’ in a way that makes respect and love for others the paramount concern, and in which making an argument is not the same thing as having an argument.”

“I still believe in man in spite of man. I believe in language even though it has been wounded, deformed, and perverted by the enemies of mankind. And I continue to cling to words because it is up to us to transform them into instruments of comprehension rather than contempt. It is up to us to choose whether we wish to use them to curse or to heal, to wound or to console.”
Elie Wiesel, Open Heart

The Apostle Paul offers guidance in his words to the Colossians when he said, “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  … Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

In a letter to United Methodists Bishop Janice Huie wrote, ” In much of the Western world, results are measured in terms of winners and losers. Holy Conferencing does not work that way. It focuses on discerning where God is leading us. It focuses on prayer, rational and respectful conversation, and a belief that with God, all things are possible.”

Lord, help us to regain the ability to have civil dialogue and mutual respect for all people.

Jamie Jenkins

In light of the horror of this past week in Paris, there are many calls to fight fire with fire. An eye for an eye. It is easy to understand this attitude in its context. Certainly someone needs to be held accountable and there must be consequences for this senseless slaughter. A reasoned but firm response is necessary but knee jerk reactions often result in undesirable unintended consequences rather than  a solution to the problem.

The growing threat of ISIS must be confronted. We cannot ignore it but we must be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” in our response.

In a recent Republican Presidential Candidate debate Sen. Marco Rubio was accused of being a “closet moderate.” This designation was not delivered as a compliment but a criticism. Perhaps the criticism was not about Rubio’s position but the fact that he has disguised or hidden his real feelings. If he has not been open and transparent, I suppose that is valid criticism.

We live in a time where militant, fanatical individuals and groups seem to get all the spotlight. Radicalism and extremism are on the rise and are dangerous. The voice of reason often gives in to those who would “bomb the ____ out of them.”

“The strength of democratic societies

relies on their capacity to know how

to stand firm against extremism while

respecting justice in the means used to fight terrorism.”

(Tariq Ramadan)

Religious and political radicals represent only a fringe element but they cause much harm. I am not speaking only of Islamic radicals although there is reason to be alarmed about them. Extremists pose real danger whether they are white supremacists or fundamentalist Muslims. Devotees to any religion or political faction who advocate for destruction of those who are different from them are cause for alarm.

When I refer to “radicals” and extremists” I am not suggesting that strong commitment to a cause or belief system is a bad thing. However, when that commitment marginalizes, endangers, or destroys anyone, it is wrong.

Dwight Eisenhower

“Extremes to the right and to the left of any political dispute are always wrong.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower

People who represent extreme perspectives can be helpful. The presence of strongly divergent opinions can cause us to begin to see and understand things that would otherwise be beyond our comprehension. Mutual respect and civil discourse among people who disagree can lead to heighted awareness and constructive change. But hateful and derogatory language and actions cause pain and foster further division.

 “If we destroy human rights and rule of law

in the response to terrorism, they have won.”

-Joichi Ito

A “moderate” is one who stands between two extremes. Is that a bad thing? Dictionaries define “moderate” with the following terms: reasonable, sensible, restrained, fair, temperate, judicious. These seem to be attributes that would be viewed favorably by most decent people.

Clint Eastwood

“Extremism is so easy. You’ve got your position and that’s it.

It doesn’t take much thought.

And when you go far enough to the right

you meet the idiots coming around from the left.”

-Clint Eastwood

Things often appear to be “right or wrong” but many times the truth is somewhere between the two extremes. The person who is a centrist (moderate) sees the value of seemingly opposite opinions and attempts to effect a synthesis of perspectives that is more balanced. Perhaps everything is not “either/or.” Maybe a better position often is “both/and.”

Let us pray and work for peace as we strive to protect the freedoms that we enjoy and believe is the right of every human being.

Jamie Jenkins