Thursday, April 21, 2016

When Did Respectful Discourse Become a Thing of the Past?

Fact: I used to love writing pieces that generated discussion.

I didn't care if people agreed with me or not. In fact, I kind of liked it when they argued with me, and we could have a generally respectful conversation about the issues at hand.

I am a very well-educated woman. I am also extremely well-read, and not just on one side of an issue (I tend to get historical or cultural obsessions; for example, I'm pretty sure I've read every book ever written about the Kennedy assassination with every possible bias--don't try to sell your "Oswald acted alone" bullshit to me--and I don't think there's a person born later than me that knows more about the Manson family than I do). I am something of an introvert (in other words, I do a lot of listening).

I do form opinions. I was raised in my formative years by an attorney and a nurse and later by a contract specialist. It was possible--not frequent but possible--for opinions to change in my family.

More important than the changing of opinions, though, were the discussions that happened, and I owe my parents and stepparents deeply for giving us the great gift of open mindedness.

My siblings and I accepted same-sex relationships because we were extremely close to family and adult friends that were gay. We were never exposed to anything but natural and appropriate love from these people. When we heard our friends making fun of homosexuals or were exposed to politicians go on and on about the dangers of exposing innocent children to these terrible people, we were flummoxed.

I can't believe that it's 2016 and people still want to beat down some of my family members because they were born with an attraction to the same sex. I think it's ludicrous. I spent weeks living with lesbian couples during school vacations, and it did no harm to me. I was never touched inappropriately, exposed to bizarre rites, or even privy to any porn. I would even go so far to say that it might even have been more normal than my living situation at the time.

It used to be that someone would say, "I am morally opposed to homosexuality," and I would ask, "Why?" and even though I didn't agree with what the person said, I could see where he or she was coming from. I could respect that. He or she could respect me.

I have friends that own guns and keep them in their house. I do not. They make their choice, and I respect that. I am not trying to take away their second amendment right. They are not trying to force gun ownership down my throat. We can discuss this. We can agree to disagree.

Why--and how--has this changed?

I use the anti-vaccination movement as an example.

A British quack named Andrew Wakefield faked a study claiming that there was a link between pediatric vaccinations and childhood autism. It has been widely debunked. For some reason, people don't want to debate this, which is really a non-issue (The CDC website states unequivocally, "Vaccines do  not cause autism.").

No, they want to fight about it. They want to put up Aidan Quinn and Jenny McCarthy as poster children for the "my kid got autism from a vaccination" movement. They have no idea how dangerous this is. (**Note--I am a teacher, and autism is a mighty challenge, although I see in both my professional and personal life parents that raise magical autistic children that they view as the gifts they are).

And when I say fight, I mean FIGHT.

You could show them statistics proving otherwise until you are blue in the face, and they will just stick to their pathetic, holier than thou, "You don't know what you're talking about."

THEN FREAKING TELL ME!

I used to enjoy debating politics, but it's ugly now. People see only in black and white. I'm noticing it more now because I'm not really thrilled about any of the American candidates, I suspect, but people are just vehemently opposed to civil discussion.

THEY JUST WANT TO WIN.

I thought I married men that cared about what I had to say, that thought I was interesting, that wanted to talk to me and hear my thoughts and share their thoughts so lots of mind augmenting could go on. I was wrong on both counts (but at least one never hit me or drove drunk with  my children in the car), so  I thought for awhile that it was just me.

The more I watch the news, though, the more I look at my Facebook feed, the more I listen to conversations around me, the more frightened I am as I realize that there are precious few conversations characterized with respectful discourse going on anymore.

I don't have to agree with you, you don't have to agree with me ... but I need to be able to see where you are coming from on some level. That seems to happen less and less likely these days.

Or is it just me?