I had a conversation earlier this week with a clergy colleague and friend re: our heartache over the ever-widening and angry tribalism in our communities and our nation.
(First up and real quick, let me be real clear I am not talking about things rooted in the darkness of real hate here–there are not two sides to real racism. Or genocide. Or the like. That I even have to clarify this is indication of what sport we’ve made of polarization. Ok, read on….)
And my colleague said so well something I’ve been rolling around for months–and that is, we’re operating with a trust deficit. And operating with a deficit–be it financial or otherwise, is not a formula for either a solid foundation, effective cooperation, or real relationship.
I have been fortunate enough to know some local and state politicians here in Kentucky personally. I say fortunate, because it means I see those men and women as human beings–I know them first by name, or how we first met, not by their job or political affiliation. And because of this I’ve learned at a deeper level what it means to vehemently disagree with someone, but also trust that he or she really does also have the wider community’s best interest at heart, even if the path there is not the same one I would take.
I have been fortunate enough, also, to serve congregations and organizations where I had beloved congregants, or respected coworkers, who saw differently than me about how we lived and moved and had being together. And because our life or work together was rooted in mutual trust of good intent, of best interest, of acting and speaking with love and respect first, we were able to work through disagreement with relationship intact.
Y’all know how this plays out in personal relationships–once trust among friends or lovers or family is broken (and certainly if it was never present at all), it’s profoundly difficult to repair. Not impossible, but difficult. And full communal confession here: we’re almost all guilty of contributing to broken trust–if we’re lucky, we also know the redemptive grace of the very hard work of rebuilding it.
And if this is true for us personally, it follows it would be true for us corporately (as in everyone together) as well. Mutual trust means a capacity to engage in real conversation about differing ideologies, because we’re able to truly envision and desire an outcome that finds the most common good possible, and then settles there. Mutual distrust means we just retreat further into our own tribe.
And this retreating–it is nothing short of our undoing.
Y’all also know I believe with every fiber of my being that social media, really any media, is a double-edged sword. It can encourage, truthfully inform, lift up, feel good and foster relationship. It can also discourage, lie, push down, feel awful and destroy relationship. It can be Harry Potter or it can be Voldemort. It can be Iron Man or it can be Thanos. It can be Darth Sidious or it can be Rey Skywalker. It can be the White Witch or it can be Aslan.
It can be good. Or it can be evil. And this depends entirely on how we use it.
When we do the retreating further into our own tribes, social media is, these days, the first thing we weaponize–it’s so easy to twist a fact, edit a video, exact a few words, such that everything becomes leveraged precisely to our own viewpoint or will. So easy to speak without accountability or face-to-face repercussion. And this further propagates distrust, further destroys any sense of community, further divides us against ourselves.
Still– when our better angels lead us to trust one another, social media can be immense blessing, because it means efforts and relationship are able to be much more widespread, sometimes even calling us back to what’s universally common about human beings–our deep desire to be known and to be loved.
I don’t have the answer, or even the beginnings of one, for how we restore the deficit. But I have some ideas about things we have to address if we even want to attempt it.
- Restoring a sense of trust requires listening. Not listening to respond. Not listening so you can better formulate your own argument. Real, active, set-yourself-aside listening. This is the only way we can begin to honor another person’s experience simply for what it is, not how we might interpret it, or how we would even respond to that experience ourselves.
- Restoring a sense of trust requires empathy. Shew, y’all, we struggle with this. It’s hard to make someone actually care about another person’s story, if they don’t already. Real hard. But acknowledging each other’s pain, and then maybe even adjusting our behavior so as not to add to it…man, if we could get this right, everything would shift. Every. Thing.
- Restoring a sense of trust requires a desire for truth. Lord have mercy, we’ve got to learn to verify, research, dig deep and discover what’s really going on around us. I fear sometimes that we’re actually just too lazy for democracy–something so much of the world would give their lives for; something so many of our ancestors did in fact give their lives for. We dishonor so many brave men and women the world over with our refusal to do the work that needs doing. And maybe this is just apathy–which I can understand to an extent. It’s hard to find honesty when it comes to democracy and the government these days. Money talks loudest and corrupt behavior is everywhere, and in every party. But to completely throw in the towel? Can we really do that and live with ourselves?
- Restoring a sense of trust requires humility. Not a single one of us has all the right answers. Not a single one of us sees the whole picture. Not a single one of us is without fault, or sin, even. Stepping down off our own arrogant pillars of supposed certainty would be a good first step towards the sort of humility I’m talking about here–but even more, it requires self-critique before critique of others. You know, that whole idea of cleaning up your own house first.
None of this is easy.
None of this will heal us overnight.
There is no silver bullet.
There is only the earnest, difficult, ongoing work of being human. Of admitting we do not, any of us, live in a vacuum. Of summoning enough compassion to see that your well-being and mine are inextricably linked. Even if we see the world entirely differently.
Any business can only go so far operating in the red, and it stands to reason that we’ll only so far if we cannot move out of “the red” ourselves.
May we find the heart to do so.