Perusing YouTube I’ve stumbled upon two very special videos that stand in stark contrast to the anger and polarization of today. Two young guys engage in a conversation that easily might not happen between a lot of people. Donavan Barrett and his friend Joseph, early twenties and late teens respectively, are a pairing that could have gone the way of oil and water. Donavan is gay while Joseph is straight — and also Catholic. I know from experience the dynamic can be challenging.
It does appear these two have struggled at times, and may still be, but it’s also clear they value each other enough to try and work through their very different beliefs and perspectives, find common ground where they can, and agree to disagree on the rest. As it should be!
This is their conversation. The first was recorded about a month ago, and then they came together to record again a few days ago.
Great discussion. Very powerful, I think, both for the content and their age.
If you follow this blog, you know the issue of civil discourse is a recurring theme for me. I see the lack of it these days as a serious problem. People block and unfriend each other on Facebook. There’s road rage. And mass shootings even! There are so many serious issues to address in this country and world. We can’t be tearing each other up. We would all do well to emulate what these two have demonstrated.
Google the word “conversation” and you’ll find all kinds of guidance and suggestions such as “The 7 Components of a Constructive Conversation.” All good advice including listening, empathy, being genuine and building common ground.
For me, I find willingness to engage is important. This is easier when discussions are conducted in person, but I’m finding discussion online often lacking — particularly on Facebook. Too many times in discussion with someone the responses I get are one-liner “bombs” instead of a reasoned explanation with examples, references or at least a from-the-gut statement simply saying “This is just how I feel.”
One-liners are good for political slogans and memes, but not for a meaningful and constructive conversation.
Even less productive is when a conversation devolves into ALL CAPS and exclamation points. Tantrums and yelling aren’t very persuasive.
I try as much as possible to back up what I say, especially when blogging where I have the luxury of space and time. In my old blog — I call it Just Sayin’ Classic (link in masthead above) — I wrote potentially controversial pieces about Cuba and Health Care. A few weeks back in this blog I wrote about the Lincoln Memorial confrontation between Nick Sandmann and Nathan Phillips. In these and other posts I’ve made a point to include citations from various sources. This doesn’t make me right, but it establishes a foundation for meaningful and informed discussion.
Facts versus Opinion
And I think it shows respect for facts — which is a whole other factor in constructive conversation. In this age of “alternative facts” and “fake news” it’s become very difficult to communicate when we can’t even agree on documented facts.
There are facts and there are opinions. A fact can exist and still carry different meaning and implications to different people. It’s these meanings and implications we should be debating, not objective fact. We’re living in an age where science has become a dirty word to a lot of people, and I see this as a road to disaster.
“I Don’t Know”
I think also that we need to become comfortable with not knowing something. “I don’t know” conveys respect to the listener. It says I’m not going to invent facts to put you down or build myself up. If I don’t know something I say so.
Just this week I got involved in a Facebook discussion about the treatment of LGBT people in Russia today. A writer conveyed an opinion that I interpreted as saying gays aren’t treated as badly as they once were. I have serious doubts about this, but it’s not a situation I’ve followed closely enough to speak with any authority. I responded to the writer’s comment by saying, “I need to study up before adding much more but suffice it to say, things aren’t too good there. How they compare specifically to the last few decades I can’t say.”
I plan to study up, perhaps not in time for that particular Facebook discussion, but I’m curious. I think the writer expressed an honest opinion without any malice towards LGBT people, and in fact he based his statement on having personally witnessed a friendly interaction between gays and police in St. Petersburg last year. I think what he saw was an exception to the norm, but I don’t feel informed enough to say this without reservation. No way was I going to rail against him! The burden is on me to gather my facts.
We all lose when bullying and personal attacks become a substitute for genuine conversation and principled disagreement. – Alicia Garza
Talking About Trump, Sometimes Hardest of All
In closing I’d like to share a conversation a friend and I held that was similar to Donavan and Joseph. In our case the subject was Trump. My friend, Gabriel, is a Trump supporter. I am not. Normally this is fodder for huge fights, Facebook unfriending, divorce or worse! Gabriel and I are very close and made conscious decisions — first to remain friends and second to try and understand our differences.
We carried on an email conversation which I published on my old blog on Inauguration Day in 2017. I call it ‘Friends Don’t Let Friends Vote Trump… Or Do They?‘ I think it drew us closer together. At least we understand each other! I invite you to read it.
For more on religion and homosexuality, see Thou Shalt Not Love.
Title image: Screen capture from Donavan Barrett video.
A Request to my Facebook Friends: If you have a comment I encourage you to enter it below instead of on Facebook. This way everyone can participate in the conversation!