Neighborly Relations

It’s been a strange Monday.  Grumpy and contentious.  On my neighborhood list serve this morning someone posted a link to the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER).  The vote on Same Sex Marriage Amendment 1 comes up in May in North Carolina, so it’s at least timely.  But very quickly someone wrote in to ask their neighbor to stop posting political posts on the list serve.  A flurry of emails ensued with some questioning why it’s okay to post about selling pies to raise money for an Evangelical Christian organization, or to advertise for Christian children’s summer camps, but not to post about the AFER.  Others chimed in to say “no politics and no religion – period.”

My favorite response, and the one that’s got me to this page, expressed sadness that we can’t trust ourselves to hold civil discussions with our neighbors about important and interesting topics.

It went on to suggest that to discuss matters with only those with whom we agree is a strategy that is inherently flawed and ultimately dangerous.  Further, this insightful neighbor offered that of course we can always have these type of discussions at political blogs and other websites.  But that too is dangerous, because by their insular nature, these sites, designed to cater to a specific demographic, allow us to buoy our own position while never having to look critically at our own beliefs.

Woo hoo!!  That’s my neighbor!

It is sad.  And it is dangerous.

I don’t want to live in a neighborhood that insists we all be the same.  I think Homeowner’s Associations that enforce conformity are absurd (we thankfully do not have this to contend with) and end up creating fake communities.

I also don’t want to live in a neighborhood that insists we all cater to each individual’s unique priorities.  That seems a recipe for lots of high fences and fist fights.

Where I want to live is in a neighborhood that uses the strength of its commonalities to create a safe space for individual difference.  In this neighborhood there is room for my neighbors who will vote for Same Sex Marriage Amendment 1 and those who will vote against it.  More, in this neighborhood, we all gather for a picnic once a year and share and listen and learn.  In this neighborhood, we feel safe to talk, or not talk, as each wishes.

I know too well that feeling of rising heat and boiling temper that comes when my beliefs are challenged.  I’ve got some Italian in me and for me it is stereotypical and comes out in great hurricanes of angry yelling.  So when I say this next part, overstand that I know it won’t be easy.  I do think though, that it’s essential.

The next time you find yourself in a political discussion with your neighbor, and that neighbor has viewpoints that start your blood running hot, take a deep breath and then, simply listen.  Remember that there is room for you and the neighbor.  Remember that it’s a part of this paradoxical life that there you stand on your side of the fence holding your views, and there they stand on the other side holding diametrically opposed views.  You are both there, simultaneously living and breathing, so truly, there is room for you both.

Liberty thrives on variety.  Freedom depends on critical debate and dialogue.  Debate and dialogue depend on grace and manners and a willingness to show up not only for ourselves, but for our communities.  We must keep talking, especially if we disagree.

© Jennifer S. and, 2012.


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