Over the years, I’ve been privileged to have friends with whom I could have frank and honest discussions about sensitive topics even when we disagreed. Topics such as religion and politics are often seen as off-limits among friends, but good friends should certainly be able to have truthful conversations.
In America, we’re very outcome-oriented; the things we do should have defined goals, we should be achieving those goals, and – unfortunately – we often feel a little guilty when our activities don’t have a tangible result.
Perhaps we think that the desired outcome of our sincere conversations about our beliefs should be vindication for our own opinions or even the conversion of another to our point of view. It has arisen in my mind of late, however, the thought that this is wholly incorrect.
It is widely accepted that many European settlers came to America for religious freedom. Some mistake this to mean we’re a Christian nation, but our constitution explicitly defines that we’re a nation where there never was – and should never be – a national religion. Instead, our founding fathers, realizing that we’ll always have different opinions, decided that we’d make a country where that was not only acceptable but protected by law. These laws protect us all; they protect Protestant Christians from being forced into Catholicism, allow Muslims and Buddhists and Jews to live side-by-side, and even protect smaller groups such as modern pagans.
In this context, it has come to me that the real value of honest discussion of sensitive topics such as political opinions or religious beliefs is in their ability to enable us to live side by side in peace. It’s easy to be swept up by the media which creates problems that don’t really exist and subsequently become stirred up over enemies that you’ve never actually seen; they do this because it’s profitable for them and for no other reason. Chances are, you know people who hold differing political and religious beliefs, and in many cases, they are your friends, your coworkers; you may know the names of their children, have visited their houses, and would never imagine wishing harm upon them. This is the reality of positive human relations, and this is the ideal of America.
The true value in the honest discourse regarding these “sensitive” topics between our friends and neighbors is that it allows us to realize that they’re much like us; they chose to accept certain values because it is where life led them, and they’re neither stupid nor evil because of it. They’re just human and they’re doing their best to understand the lives that have been laid before them.
As Americans – and humans – it is important that we realize that sometimes there are real enemies who might desire to harm us or those we love… but most people are just people, trying to live a good and decent life to the best of their understanding.
I believe it is time that we stop avoiding conversations about our differences and take the time to hear why your friend, your relation, or your coworker thinks or believes a certain way. Only then can we stop buying into the insanity that leads so many to believe that those not like them are the enemy at the gate.