|St. Thomas Aquinas by Fra Angelico|
This appeared in The New York Times and should be read by anyone who thinks he has a correct opinion on one of the many topics headlining today’s cultural news—in other words, by everyone. The money quote is:
In other words, to disagree well you must first understand well. You have to read deeply, listen carefully, watch closely. You need to grant your adversary moral respect; give him the intellectual benefit of doubt; have sympathy for his motives and participate empathically with his line of reasoning. And you need to allow for the possibility that you might yet be persuaded of what he has to say.
This is really nothing new. It is the method of St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica. State your opponent’s position accurately and take the time to understand the support for this position before launching in to your rebuttal of his position.
This piece appeared at a very opportune time for me. I have said repeatedly I do not like to engage in Facebook comment discussions because they deteriorate quickly. My Facebook newsfeed was full of memes and statements regarding the NFL players taking a knee, sitting, or refusing to stand for the national anthem and the flag. My position as a veteran, a military spouse, and a military mom is that these athletes have the right to do this, but they should be aware of how offensive it appears to many in the military community. They may not intend it to be a slap in the face to those who serve, but it is taken as a slap in the face by many, including me. There are ways to raise awareness without being disrespectful. I tried to offer this in what I hope was a reasonable, non-confrontational way on two different Facebook threads. It provided an interesting contrast.
On one thread, the initial position was that how could anyone object to a peaceful attempt to bring awareness to social injustice. There was reasoned discussion on both sides of the issue. In the end, there was an acknowledgement that failing to stand respectfully during the national anthem could be seen as an insult to the military. Many on that thread had not realized how deeply this could hurt the military community. Even if they could not fully grasp the why of the pain, they were empathetic to the pain.
The other thread was filled with #BlackLivesMatter hashtags and repeated references to “white privilege” and the deficiencies of the “melanin-lite” population. Failure to fully embrace the protests was seen as support for social injustice and inequities. People were judged by whether or not they had expressed the proper social justice positions on their Facebook and Twitter feeds. I was basically told that any pain I felt was fallacious and unworthy of consideration. I should just take my white privilege (my Latina heritage notwithstanding) and shut up. The ideology made empathy impossible.
Clearly, one group of people had mastered the art of disagreement while the other had not.