Division

I am troubled by the way our country seems to have gone over the last ten years. A pattern has been established which should cause all of us to pause and take some in depth inventory of our attitudes, perceptions, and reactions. When I assess our country’s current situation, I see more division than unity. This is clearly visible in social media, the press, and the public conversations. The norm currently appears to be for people to choose sides and to argue vehemently with one another without consideration of the impact of their words and actions.

I am reminded of two important responses to division. The first is found in Scripture in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus is speaking in response to accusations of religious leaders and his family regarding their perception that he is possessed by Beelzebub, or at the very least insane. He was drawing large crowds who listened to his unorthodox teachings. Jesus’ response is that there is no way he can be from God and be possessed by an evil spirit at the same time. He makes the statement, “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” (Mark 3:25, NIV) Clearly, Jesus is indicating that division will bring about negative results.

The second response is a speech given by Abraham Lincoln in 1858 when he was accepting the nomination of the Illinois Republican Party to run for United States Senator. Lincoln is warning against slavery-based disunion in his speech. He quotes the passage from Mark by stating:

A house divided against itself, cannot stand.

I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.

I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided.

It will become all one thing or all the other.

Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.

Lincoln understood that the nation could not move forward as long as division existed.

I feel a lot like Lincoln must have felt at that time. Looking around I see constant uncivil debate and an apparent unwillingness for anyone to listen to another perspective. I see a large amount of energy being expended to identify differences without seeking areas of agreement. Little effort is being made to address the points of contention. Instead, the prevailing attitude is one of “my way or the highway.” Add to this that there are agitators on both sides of each issue whose main goal is not resolution but continued acceleration of the division. This division is increased by a population who seems to be easily offended by everything that is said or done.

Our current state of affairs is not unique to our contemporary setting. Division among peoples can be found throughout all history and within every facet of human life. If one reviews history, when division becomes great, then separation is attempted. Sometimes those attempts are successful and probably in the best interest of the parties involved. Other times separation is prevented and a healthier whole is produced.

There is so much feeding into the growing division within our nation. Debate is one of the positive aspects of living in a free society. Expression of thoughts, feelings, and ideas is vital to a healthy democracy and representative form of government. However, when the methods and tactics used to express those thoughts, feelings, and ideas are meant to tear down people and their lives, they are not beneficial but destructive. When it becomes easy to label and accuse without evidence and a fair examination of that evidence then those labels and accusations do nothing more than persecute and oppress. Sharing of information continuously and quickly without ensuring the accuracy of the information only leads to distrust and misinformed individuals.

We need to find the wisdom in the words of Jesus and Abraham Lincoln. We need to listen carefully to one another. Instead of being offended by those who have a different point of view, we need to take the time to understand that point of view even if we continue to disagree with it. Energy needs to be expended in an attempt to identify those areas of life we have in common while celebrating the diversity which makes us whole.

Everyone plays a role in mending our division. The press needs to stop being concerned about finding the latest sound bite to grab people’s attention and instead identify the truth and facts which will honestly inform the people. The political leaders need to discontinue attacking the personhood of individuals and seek ways to compromise with the goal of benefiting the nation as a whole. Religious leaders need to present the examples of those who have brought healing to the world from their faith traditions and strive to show what it means to live in unity as the human race. Each individual needs to work at ending their own selfish focus and seek ways to be educated, informed, and compassionate. Name calling, violence, false information, personal attacks, labeling, assumptions, and setting up battle lines needs to end.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

In 1967, the late Aretha Franklin released a song which would become synonymous with her name, Respect. Since that time, the song has been used to communicate a message of respecting another person. When I listen to her sing that song, I cannot help but feel her own feelings in the lyrics which she was singing. For her, she was asking to be respected for being an extremely talented black female artist in a time when being black and being female seldom received any of the respect that either social group deserved. This is the song which came to my mind the other day while I was sitting in the coffee shop.

I had gone to my regular coffee shop to enjoy a latte while I did some reading and some planning for my writing. One of the frequent events which occur during my trips to the coffee shop is my observation of the surrounding people. This happens either as I am brainstorming ideas which leads me to look around myself or if there is a sound which draws my attention. On this particular day as I was observing, I became aware public respectfulness appears to have lessened.

What I mean by public respectfulness is the manner in which a person conducts him or herself around others. With the introduction of the mobile phone, more people carry on conversations in public areas than used to be the case. This convenience has not been accompanied by an agreed upon set of behavior standards. I have no problem with people talking on their phones in public areas, in fact, I am guilty of doing so. What I have a problem with is when those conversations become loud enough to interfere with the normal actions of others. Or when those conversations lead to holding up lines because the person is distracted with the phone in their hand and is unable to take care of what is required of them at the time.

Another disrespect which I often witness is in regard to attending events. I remember my parents always making sure that if we were attending a concert, a play, or some other culture event which required sitting for a period, I was instructed to use the restroom before we entered. The reason for my parent’s instructions was in case I needed to use the restroom in the middle of the event which would cause me to get up from my seat, walk in front of others, and interrupt their enjoyment of the event. Most events which were lengthy would place an intermission in the middle so that a person could take care of this and other needs without being a distraction. These days not only do children get up and exit at any point during an event but adults do it and the adults are usually much louder and more disruptive in the process.

The lack of public respect surfaces also in regard to parents providing oversight for their children. Having been a father of two boys, I understand that there are times when a child acts out in public. This is normal. However, my parents provided an example which I followed with my children, if acting out was the plan, then I was escorted out of the public area where a conversation would occur. Unfortunately, I witness too many parents who are either more concerned about continuing a conversation they are having with a friend or focused on something on their phone than they are being aware of what their child is doing and providing appropriate redirection if a child is causing a concern. I watched a mother sitting with one of her daughters while her other daughter was dancing around breakable items, picking them up, and playing with them. The mother looked at the child but did nothing to redirect the child except to say that her daughter probably should not do that. In a short amount of time, the young girl dropped a ceramic mug which shattered on the floor. An employee came to clean it up and reached the child faster than the mother who was seated only a couple feet away. I view this as being disrespectful of the business and the patrons who were in the business.

The respect of which Aretha Franklin sang is something which is taught at home. Parents, grandparents, adult relatives, and adults as a whole need to model respect for our children. We need to take a serious look at how we display public respect. I learned respect at home from my parents, my grandparents, my aunts, my uncles, and the friends of my parents. I also had the fortune of adults in my church, my teachers, and community members to teach me respect. I think we need more of this.

#Hashtags

I am probably going to show my age with this post but it is something that has been on my mind for a while. Whatever brought on the idea that using hashtags in almost all communication was a good idea. I confess, I just do not get it. Yes, I know that it became prominent with the introduction of Twitter but it now seems to appear everywhere.

Remember long ago when this symbol – # – meant number. When I was taking typing (again a sign of my age) in high school, we would only use that symbol above the numeral 3 on the keyboard if we were trying to state a number was following. This was definitely not a symbol that I used often. If you were writing something professional, it was seldom ever used at all. Today the hashtag appears in advertisements, in all types of social media posts, and even on printed materials.

I was reading someone’s post on Facebook the other day, and they had fourteen hash tags with different words and phrases following at the end of their post. This clearly seemed like overkill from my perspective. As I looked at all those, it made me think that they were like the small print which is at the bottom of the page of a printed item. Just like I (and I think others) skip over that small print, I skipped right over all the hash tagged phrases at the end of the post.

Maybe my issue with the hashtag trend is that I struggle to come up with the right hashtags for anything I post. I see creative and somewhat brilliant ones when I take the time to actually look at them. Some of them even make me laugh. Yet every time I try to add one to my post it seems to lack anything which would generate interest in my eyes.

Someone who reads this blog post will probably have a very good explanation for why we have become a hashtagged crazy generation. A person much younger than myself will clearly not understand why I would even have an issue with this behavior. That younger person can probably give a very in depth answer for the prominence of hashtags. I am more than ready to hear it. For now, do not expect me to join this trend any time soon.