Recently, I have been having a lot of conversations with other bloggers about burnout and weariness. It seems that a number of us are feeling tired when it comes to churning out content. In one conversation it became clear to me that, for me, part of the exhaustion is that having an opinion has become a weary endeavor.
That’s not just true on the internet. It’s true every where.
It seems that we as a society are plagued by a tyranny of the emotionally reactive and immature. Emotional maturity can be described as the ability to manage one’s emotions and maintaining relational connection in the midst of conflict and differing opinions. The emotionally mature person is able to differentiate themselves by expressing their opinions, staying relationally connected when others disagree, and not demand others to share their beliefs. Unfortunately, we are living in a day and age where those who have that ability are endangered species. Very few people can disagree and remain relationally connected.
Society has regressed and become a highly reactive system where there is a ‘vicious cycle of intense reactions of each member to events and to one another’. (Edwin Friedman, A Failure of Nerve, pg 53). The 24 hour news cycle, social media, tribalism, and hyperbolic headlines designed to grab attention rather than inform contribute to an increasingly reactive discourse making it nearly impossible to have a conversation.
Online and in real life.
Not long ago I was having a conversation about politics (first mistake) with someone close to me. During the course of the conversation I made the comment that I believe some regulation by the government is good for society. That unleashed hell. Had I known a 3 hour cross-examination into all my political opinions was to ensue just to sniff out whether or not I was a totalitarian (yes, that word and accusation did arise), I would not have made that comment. And this is the point. When sharing your thoughts and opinions causes a reaction that feels less like a conversation and more like a Guantanamo Bay interrogation, you tend hold back.
The results of this are disastrous. Rather than sharing thoughts, people are silenced by the fear of being shunned. Rather than dialoguing with those who think differently, we lob verbal bombs across party lines. We entrench ourselves in ideology and tribes and hyperbole to find protection from the dysfunction of society. But our regression behind these false barriers are only furthering the inability of individuals and society to dialogue towards real solutions.
I am coming to believe this reactivity stems from a deep anxiety arising from the cultural shifts. Globalization, financial instability, terrorism, the erosion of Christendom, and the success of Justin Bieber all contribute to a growing sense of uncertainty (if Bieber’s success doesn’t affect your certainty that goodness and beauty and art will win the day, I don’t know what will). Uncertainty breeds a desire for, well…certainty. And it doesn’t have to be real certainty. We just need to feel certain. So we yell and scream and call those who make us feel uncertain heretics. Socialists. Bible-haters. Unpatriotic.
Which makes it very unsafe to question the status quo.
And tiring when you do.
It’s tiring to write about the shame associated with infertility and be told that you stand condemned before God for what you wrote.
It’s tiring to write about teaching your son responsibility in looking at women and be told you are a eunuch and your son will never get a girlfriend if you teach him these things.
Writing becomes exhausting when you are constantly expending emotional and mental energy to disregard personal attacks. And that’s what they are, personal attacks. The blogosphere – and society in general – has become a place where the exchange of ideas has been replaced by the attacking the holder of ideas. Ideas are not put under scrutiny, the person is.
If we want to be a society where real dialogue can occur, then it begins with us. We need to be willing to listen to the opinions others – even if we disagree with them. And when I say listen, I should clarify that and say we need to listen differently. Too often we listen to another person with a posture of “agree/disagree” or “right/wrong” or “how can I respond and look good.” If that is our posture, then we are not listening to understand, we are listening from a posture of discussion. The kind of discussion that shares its roots with the words “concussion” and “percussion,” and most of us know first-hand what it is like to be in a discussion like that. It is why we say, “I’m banging my head against the wall!“
I’ve often wondered how the conversations on Twitter and blogs would be different if we were sitting around a table with bread and wine. I have to imagine they would be a little kinder. A little slower. More generous.
Graciousness begins with me. I need to learn to appreciate the opinion and views of another person if I don’t agree with them. I need to learn to be comfort in the midst of tension. I need to learn to be quiet when I want to yell. I need to learn to speak when I want to be quiet. It begins with me.
It begins with you.
Making the world a place where it is safe for differing opinions and thoughts to co-exist is our responsibility. It is my responsibility. Safe space begins when I make the space around me safe for others to be themselves and share themselves.
Jesus had the ability to make this space around himself. It is the only way he could sit at the table with Pharisees who judged him, cross-examined him, and were suspicious of him and, while still at their table, make space for a prostitute to anoint his feet with oil and tears. It is the space that made it possible for fisherman, tax collectors, zealots and hot heads to be a part of his chosen group of twelve. Jesus was comfortable creating space for the other in his midst.
This is the kind of space we all want the church to be. There is no shortage of criticism for the lack of safe space in the church. But the reality is that space for differing opinions and ideas will exist in the church only when safe space exists around individuals. And its existence is dependent on me. On you. On us.
In a Christian context we might call this a community of grace and truth. A place where truth can be found while exercising grace toward one another.
Maybe it wouldn’t be so weary to hold an opinion when surrounded by grace and truth.
We may actually find it life-giving.