Can we talk (with dignity and respect?)

Has anyone else noticed how difficult it has become for people with different opinions to have an open, honest, and respectful debate these days?  Would you feel comfortable to honestly share your convictions, thoughts, or even questions with others without being concerned about the reaction or judgement you might receive?  Why have people become so afraid to simply listen to understand another point of view, even if they may not agree with that person's position? Do we assume that we are the only ones who could possible be intelligent, thoughtful, caring and honest enough to warrant listening to with respect and dignity?

In the cultural and political arenas, it seems like people have picked or gravitated towards “teams” that they feel most comfortable with, and then begin adopting whatever policies and beliefs that group has staked out, rarely questioning the full rationale and truth behind their team’s position, and almost never being willing to give any credence or even a respectful listen to the other team's beliefs.  It seems like a dangerous model for a “progressive” society to actually make any true progress. 

When we brand another individual as hateful, bigoted, racist, sexist, uncaring, ignorant, selfish, and uncaring, why would we bother to take any time to listen to them or their ideas?  Why would we question our own ideas?  Maybe honestly paying attention to the actual people being impacted those ideas would help to answer those questions?  When we judge another and treat them as not worthy of listening to or understanding, we dehumanize them.  When we promote the virtues of diversity, inclusion, and tolerance, but then turn around and trash another human being as unworthy of respect because we do not agree with their opinion, something seems oddly wrong and unfair. 

We can start to look at the world divided into three groups, the sheep (victims that need protecting), the wolves (selfish predators that victimize those sheep), and the shepherds (those that are needed to protect the sheep), we need to be careful about creating a world that ends up serving the shepherd's egos vs the sheep’s best interests, as we create the wolves and the policies that ensure the dependency of the sheep.  We can see how incredibly difficult it can be for minorities or female Americans to espouse a different set of beliefs than they are told to have.  Blacks that espouse a system that hints at personal responsibility and opportunity are often trashed or marginalized as traitors to their race and, even if they firmly believe in an alternative approach that may actually be more effective from their own actual experience. .  Tens of millions of women are strongly pro-life and are willing to speak out about impact to women themselves and the reality that another living human being is involved in every abortion choice, yet they are marginalized and ignored by women’s unity marches and policy discussions.  Are we treating each individual with dignity and respect if we dismiss them when they express what they believe.

As children of God, we are all called to respect, love and forgive each other.  Loving those that we like or those that agree with us is easy.  We are called to love, even our enemies, wishing the best for them and hoping that they come to “the truth” and not just “our truth.”  While it is important to judge actions, we are never called to judge or dehumanize another person.  If we believe they are on the wrong track with their beliefs or even their actions, listening to understand first and then engaging in a respectful and honest discussion is a far healthier and effective approach to creating a better world, as opposed to the track we seem to be on these days.  I have hope that the pendulum will always swing back from its extremes, but if we always treat anything we do not agree with as extreme, we may not know where that healthier equilibrium actually is.  Since it effects real human beings, I think it is worth each of us stepping back from our personal truths and emotions and looking for the real truths together.