So You Want to Change the World

Hands on a globe --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis
Hands on a globe — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

When it comes to politics, I’m usually a pretty private person. I have very strong opinions on how to make the world a better place but I reserve those opinions and feelings for my nearest and dearest, primarily my husband. As a teacher I try to keep my personal views quiet, although the articles I assign students to read and the themes I choose to pursue in certain pieces of literature might betray those feelings. I believe that my job is to teach teenagers HOW to think, not WHAT to think. And let’s be honest. I’m a hopeless INFJ people pleaser. I don’t want people to be mad at me so I primarily keep my moderate somewhat conservative views to myself.

But social media brings out the worst in us. The last couple days have had me stewing, itching to say something but terrified of the consequences. And then today multiple people were killed, again, in a school shooting. All I could think about was the potential explosion of ironic Facebook posts that were sure to take over my feed, and I snapped.

For years my husband and I faithfully watched The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Some nights I laughed. Some nights I wanted to shout at the stupidity of the world around us. Some nights I went to bed feeling much more informed. And many nights I shook my head and said to myself “Nope, you don’t get it Jon. I don’t think you are right on this one.” And yet I still watched, faithfully, for years, often staying up later than I should have so I could get my nightly dose of Stewart.

Why? Why would I watch someone who I disagree with as he sometimes mocked the very values that I have held (and sometimes struggled with) for years?

Because even when I felt he was wrong, he was right. He was right because, from his world view, I was wrong. He was right because, from his personal experience, I was wrong. He was right because we didn’t share the core beliefs that shaped our world view and so I learned from him. I learned how others viewed my beliefs and values based on the actions of a vocal minority. I learned how to disagree with someone while still respecting their right to hold opposing views and the manner in which he held them. I learned that just because I don’t agree with someone on many different issues it doesn’t mean that they belong to the evil empire.

And that is why today I broke out of character and posted this on my Facebook page:

“In this country, we have ardent pro-choicers who will go to the line to protect a woman’s right to choose whether or not she wants to have an abortion (even though in most cases she clearly made the perfectly legal decision, married or un-married, to engage in a sexual relationship with a consenting partner that could potentially lead to pregnancy) and yet in the next breath they will argue for tight restrictions on firearms (all the while ignoring the Second Amendment and the purpose behind the Second Amendment, taking away certain people’s rights), abolishing the death penalty (because it is taking away the life of a MURDERER), expansion of social programs (which in certain situations can actually take away a person’s ability to make their own choices because of dependence on the programs), and blanket amnesty for illegal immigrants (granting mercy to people who break the law but not to those who have no choice in their own conception).

ON THE OTHER HAND, we have ardent pro-lifers who will go to the line to save the unborn and prevent the death of millions of innocent lives (which means in the eyes of ardent pro-choicers they are also going to take the choice of motherhood away from the mother) and yet in the next breath they will argue for the right for unrestricted access to firearms (which in the wrong hands will also kill innocent victims), keeping the death penalty (even though this would also be taking a life), the abolishment of welfare (taking away the probable means of support for the very babies they are trying to save), and shipping “anchor babies” back over the border because the children’s parents broke the law and are “ruining” our country by being here illegally (even though most of those same people would never stoop so “low” as to do the jobs that those illegal immigrant parents are doing in an effort to give their children a better life).

People, we are a nation of hypocrites who are so caught up in our own causes that we refuse to listen to why people think and feel and believe the way that they do. We are so caught up in the immediate importance of our own causes that we fail to look for reasonable solutions that might just fix the problems we see sooner than later (even if those solutions require us to compromise).

Can we please stop the yelling matches and talking past each other? Can we try, just for a couple minutes, to walk in someone else’s shoes? Can we try to read information from multiple angles instead of just from people we agree with? I have news for you: nothing is changing with any of these issues. And you know why? It’s because we are all so full of hubris that we believe that if we just keep fighting harder and louder (not smarter) we will be victorious. And in the meantime, we all lose.”

Yep, I mean everything I said. I really do.

One of my favorite writing assignments is an experience narrative. Instead of asking kids to just write a standard personal narrative, I ask them to think about a life changing event, an event that changed the way they view the world. It could be big or small. I usually use the example of my little sister’s bike accident from when we lived in Wyoming. A bike helmet saved her from permanent brain injury and I have been a proponent of bike safety ever since. Once they have written the narrative they are to then present an argument based on that narrative. From a pedagogical standpoint it is an exercise in both narrative and argument. But it also teaches them about empathy. It teaches them that they believe something because they have experience with the issue but others might not agree because their experiences have taught them something different. Theoretically, in my perfect little world in my head, the assignment teaches them that to really understand an issue, sometimes they have to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

In the social media shouting match, that is what is missing. People read and repost what they agree with while ignoring the fact that the world is bigger than a single person. We all have experiences that shape our world view and the only way to change someone’s mind is to really listen to them and share our stories. We say we want to change the world? Why don’t we start by asking why someone is right instead of telling them why they are wrong? Most people can’t be shocked and coerced into changing their views. The only way to create lasting change is to change the heart.

As a Christian I believe that change of heart comes from God. I believe that in this sinful world we all need to be reminded that our hearts are black and in need of a Savior. But I also know that no one is going to listen to me if I’m not trying to listen to them. When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well He didn’t start the conversation by condemning her and telling her why she was wrong. He let her talk. He talked to her. And when it was finally revealed that she had earned her reputation as the town whore, He told her she was forgiven and to go and sin no more.

Want to change the world? Stop with the politics and start with a heart to heart. I have a feeling that will finally get all of us where we want to go.

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