During the Soviet-Afghan war (1979-1989), a group of U.S. special forces—operating undercover—were captured by Soviet special forces. On searching the U.S. soldiers, the Soviets found large amounts of U.S. dollars—funds designated for their covert mission. It was a ton of cash.
The Soviets were baffled to realize the U.S. soldiers were carrying out their mission willingly. Why would you be fighting in such a harsh, unforgiving place, when you could take all that cash and get out of there?
It was a turning point among the war-hardened team of men from the Soviet special forces. Their passports were held by their government while they were fighting in Afghanistan. They fought because they were under orders. Yet here was a bunch of guys who fought not only because they were soldiers, but because they personally believed in the ideals of their country.
This is a true story. I know one of the Soviet soldiers who was there. It changed his life and the lives of his men.
It got me thinking—what if someone told me everything I’ve learned about life was wrong? That my understanding of right and wrong is haywire, and what I thought was gold is essentially worthless. That my perception of reality comes from a systematic program of brainwashing.
Now imagine if you’re the person that has to break this news to someone. What do you say?
“You’re an idiot. You’re like this because you’re a product of a narrow-minded sheltered life. You have an evolutionary genetic fault that causes you to be pre-deposed to this idiocy.”
Sadly, on social media these days, this approach seems to be the norm. There are plenty of folks trying to change someone else’s long-held mindset (or maybe protecting their own) by bullying them online. This is especially true in the areas of politics and religion. We’ve entered an era of verbal warfare, thinking that words don’t really inflict injury. But they do. They have led to a greater divide in this country.
An idea: what if we learned to use a posture and tone of dialogue online, instead of debate?
Some might say, “I’m absolutely certain about what I believe, so why would I need to dialogue? I just need to debate and convert people to my way of thinking.” I’m not advocating for arbitration—though there’s definitely a need for that on some social issues. What I’m suggesting is that we can get better at agreeing-to-disagree if we have a posture and tone of dialogue instead of debate.
Why is debate our default position? Why is it that we struggle to listen to other points of view?
In my opinion, it’s because we’ve developed a calloused layer of pride in our culture. If someone attacks our left- or right-leaning political position, or our Christian or atheist beliefs, we don’t start by assuming it’s possible we could be wrong. We don’t start by assuming someone else’s point of view might have value. We start with, “How can they be so stupid?”
Our culture has instilled a sense of ‘me first’. We have been taught to fight for our rights. We have been instructed to stand on our own two feet. God forbid that you should attack my beliefs; I’ll come out fighting.
I’m not suggesting we need to let go of our strongly-held, time-tested beliefs. I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t want everyone to adopt my worldview, and I’m quite happy to debate it with you. But maybe if we started conversations with a tone and posture of dialogue, instead of debate, we might actually learn something from each other instead of engaging in verbal warfare.
In the Bible, there’s story about some religious orthodox Jews who brought a woman to Jesus who had been caught in an affair. According to their law, she needed to be stoned. Jesus doesn’t disagree with them, but essentially says “go ahead, just make sure the first person that throws a stone at this woman doesn’t have anything sinful in their life.” They all walked away without throwing a stone.
It always seems to be the people that have an egocentric approach to life—whether it’s politics or religion—that are demanding a public stoning. Something needs to change.
That’s why we started THRED. Yes, we’re a Christian organization and have strongly-held beliefs about life and faith. But we see the need to replace debate with dialogue. We may not agree on whether there’s a God, but maybe we can work together for justice in our communities. We may not agree on how the world came into being, but maybe we can work together to protect the environment and restore the beauty of the earth we live in. Maybe there are some things we can agree on that can change this world regardless of our differing motivations.
Of course, if I can convince you of my worldview, I will try. But I want to learn to listen with a posture that says, “I am willing to truly listen to your point of view and learn from you.” To have this posture, there needs to be a layer of humility. It may not be the automatic reaction like our pride is…but maybe that can change over time.
Welcome to THRED.