We need to talk, without being so mean

Despite being someone who was known for enjoying a nice verbal fight in my younger days, I’ve always tried to shy away from conversations about politics and religion. And the reason for my avoidance is the same in both occasions: people are mean. The two topics tend to be so divisive that before you know it, people are screaming and calling each other names. When pundits on TV do that, I cringe and turn it off. Real life conversations are harder to turn off, so I just try to avoid getting in them at all. Some people might say I’m scared and/or can’t defend my beliefs (we’ve been talking about apologetics at church this month, so making a defense is heavy on my mind right now). But, honestly, I know what I believe, both religiously and politically, and feel I could defend those beliefs should the need arise. However, in my humble opinion, it seems that often those who get so caught up in these “debates” aren’t interested in listening to the other side’s defense or arguments, but are more interested in belittling, demeaning, bullying the other into silence. Bullying has no place in an authentic debate; though I may be in the minority on that belief, I still stand by it.

So now I’m going to break my own rule and stick my nose into a conversation that deals with both of my forbidden topics. Arkansas Senator Jason Rapert recently introduced a bill dubbed The Heartbeat Bill. In a nutshell, the bill proposes to require a fetal heartbeat check before any requested abortion. If a heartbeat is detected, the abortion would not be allowed to proceed. Rapert stated that the bill maintained all the same previous exceptions to abortion bans (i.e., allowing abortions in the case of rape, incest, etc.). As you may imagine, this sparked a lot of discourse amongst the pro-life and pro-choice crowds.

Some of the discussions I’ve seen appear to be genuinely aimed at striking a balance between the two.

Others simply disgust me.

Case in point: last night on Twitter, Sen. Rapert found himself in the middle of a heated conversation with primarily one local Arkansas tweep (though a couple others joined in here and there). I spent much of the morning (more time than I should have probably) pulling that conversation together to include here. The snapshots are rather large, because the conversations went on for awhile (but I believe you can click through a couple of times to get it large enough to read).

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It kept going …

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What bothers me the most about this exchange is the number of times the constituent resorts to name calling and insults: e.g., “contentious, disrespectful jerk”; “juvenile, disrespectful, unresponsive”; “douchebag”; “obtuse”; “cruel and silly”; “clueless and inept”; “again with the stupid questions.” Some statements are even a little threatening: “my mission to prove you wrong”; “they’ll tell you not to mess with me.”

On the flipside, the only statement I see from Sen. Rapert that is potentially offensive is his initial response that another tweep’s “social media tantrums are tiring.” The remainder of his involvement in the conversation appears civil to me. At least, I don’t think he’s insulting anyone.

Now, I’m sure that anyone reading this will presume I’m a supporter of Rapert. I’ll tell you honestly that I didn’t even really know who he was until last night. I’ll also honestly tell you a few other things that may or may not matter to you:

I’m conservative. I respect the Constitution and believe in small government and individual rights. I think if I share what I work for with others less fortunate, it should be because it’s the right thing to do, not because somebody makes me. I believe in the right to protect myself and my family against those that would do harm. In short, I don’t like the government telling me what I can and cannot do. But I also believe that when there’s a baby inside me, it’s no longer just about me. If we value life, then we value all life, even when it’s still developing.

I also believe in free speech. So I believe that people have a right to disagree and to voice their competing opinions. But I don’t believe that gives anyone the right, carte blanche, to be mean or disrespectful to others.

This is the point when I’m tempted to spout “why can’t we all just get along” and break into the “Friends” theme song.

But in all seriousness, why does believing that a baby has a right to live make someone “clueless” or “hateful” or a “douchebag”? Why do those types of comments have any place in a conversation as important as this one?

They don’t have a place in these important conversations. And people who resort to name-calling and other insulting tactics to “make their points” are simply bullying others who do not agree with them. That, to me, is full of hate.

I don’t believe any of the people involved in the conversation above read this blog. But, in case they do, I’ll close with one final statement to them and anyone moved to comment: we need to talk … without being so mean to each other.

4 Comments

  1. Patrick Houston

    I agree with the basic thrust of your post – that we need to be respectful toward one another, but respect is often in the eye of the beholder.

    When Mr. Rapert – who I was very careful to be respectful toward – judged me ‘not a Christian’ because he and I don’t share the same beliefs, well, I found that disrespectful in the extreme.

    Not only to me, but to the millions and millions of Christians that do not share his particular beliefs as well.

    And if you saw that and didn’t recoil in horror at the enormity of that particular brand of disrespectful judgement by Mr. Rapert, it sort of proves my point about disrespect being in the eye of the beholder.

    I am not “for abortion” and I have 4 children to prove it, but neither do I believe that outlawing it is the correct approach to the issue.

    If and when I see Mr. Rapert working with equal zeal to address the causes and conditions that lead to most abortions, then I will believe that he truly values life.

    • Patrick, I really appreciate your comment. I can see how Mr. Rapert’s tweet could be interpreted as questioning your beliefs if you don’t agree with him. It is sad that comments like this that just drive more of a wedge between people make their way into conversations that have such an impact on our lives. However, I don’t think it’s an issue of disrespect being in the eye of the beholder … one or two comments that may be interpreted as offensive versus 15 or 20 filled with insults and name-calling. No one wins (or accomplishes anything really) when the conversations turn ugly. But, again, thank you for reading and commenting here; I was moved to share my opinion and appreciate your honest consideration.
      Stephanie

      • patrick

        Stephanie,

        Thanks for the thoughtful reply.

        I think that you’re being fairly generous toward Mr. Rapert in saying “could be interpreted as questioning your beliefs”.

        I think it is perfectly clear that he has judged me as ‘not a Christian’ – a judgement that I believe allows him to be dismissive of opinions he doesn’t agree with.

        It is the perfect way to rationalize his views. When someone agrees with him, he takes that as validation that his opinion is correct. When someone disagrees with him, he also uses that as validation that his views are correct because they are ‘not a Christian’ according to his opinion of what Christians are supposed to believe.

        It’s a win/win mindset for him.

        Yes, it is couched in a smile and polite language, but it is clear what Mr. Rapert believes, and the message it sends. But I don’t expect Mr. Rapert has the self-awareness to know it.

        It might not be openly disrespectful like calling someone a douchebag, but it is, in my view, a deeper and more subtle type of dismissiveness that is disrespectful in the extreme. It is polite on the surface, but underneath, it is something very different.

        I also believe that it is ultimately a more damaging type of arrogance and disrespect because he has set himself up as judge, jury and executioner on the entire range Christian theology – and according to my Christian beliefs, that is a chair he does not sit in.

        At any rate, thank you again for the thoughtful reply and for having the courage to allow an honest debate here.

        patrick

        • Patrick,
          I completely agree with you that that type of subtle dismissiveness is more damaging to us, as individuals and as a nation as a whole. I would not accept someone telling me I’m not a Christian simply because I disagree with one of his/her opinions. I can only hope and pray that my response would be one couched in love and not hate. Thank you for discussing this with me.
          Stephanie

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