Both sides of the political divide, liberals and conservatives, claim moral superiority. And they go about trying to make converts by claiming that their side, and their side alone, takes the moral high road. The tools in this endeavor are fear and shame.
Example #1: Immigration.
Conservatives employ fear in order to control perceptions. If we are afraid of foreigners, we will reject them and protect ourselves. We'll be safer if we are more fearful. Such as this, now famous meme:
(I like this line from the movie The Tale of Despereaux, "Oh, Despereaux, this world is full of wonderful things to be afraid of, if only you realize how scary they are.")
Liberals employ shame to make people "do the right thing." The talking points create straw man arguments to make people feel badly for being heartless savages. Religious people are at the top of that list. If you were truly a decent person you'd be more open, you jerk.
Example #2: Abortion.
Liberals employ fear. If pro-life legislation is passed, if a pro-life person is elected, if a pro-life judge takes the bench women will be victimized, there will be back-alley abortions and bleeding in the streets. Women will lose their autonomy and we'll all be relegated to being barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen again.
On the flip side, Conservatives employ shame. Emotionally and morally charged language. Instead of women being victims and disenfranchised and scared and vulnerable, they are "mothers of a dead baby" and murders.
And the labels the groups are given are often, at least partially, misnomers. Pro-choicers are not pro-all-choices. Just check to see which democrats voted to take away the freedom of parents to choose whether or not their children are vaccinated. There's a serious war brewing in California as parental rights and choices are taken away by big brother. You can choose to have an abortion, but if that child is born alive you don't have a choice whether or not she gets the highly controversial Gardasil vaccine.
Pro-lifers are often not pro-all life (There are exceptions, such as socially active Roman Catholics.). Just look up which Republicans still support the death penalty. (see the UCSSB's pro-life prayer) Or the NIMB attitude as it applies to taking in refugees. (NIMB = not in my backyard) Sometimes pro-lifers are pro-birth or pro-some-life. It's a painful truth that we need to 'fess up to.
And you can see examples of this everywhere if you just take a moment to look at your Facebook or Twitter feed. Just today I logged in to see several of my friends post the same FB post that stated if you didn't join the "Women's March" you probably have never been the victim of a sexual crime, are not an ethnic minority, an immigrant or lack health insurance. Because if you have experienced any of these things, you'd support the march. Well, guess what? I have been a victim of sexual crime, I am an ethnic minority, my husband is an immigrant and I have actually never had health insurance in my life. I did not support the March. But, that's what I mean about claiming moral superiority. It's a false narrative. All the decent people on one side of the line and all the degenerate on the other.
I have found this past year that everyone wants to think that they take the high road and are open to people that are different than they are. Everyone wants to think they are comfortable with diversity. It's always the other side of the aisle that is full of intolerant bigots. Until they encounter someone truly different, someone who doesn't support their pet causes, who does not see things the same way at all. Then the struggle gets real. I am no exception.
I have seen so many people this year unfriend and block people on social media or lash out at their neighbors that it breaks my heart. The media, the culture, the 24 hour news cycle perpetuates this fear and shame so that we feel quite justified in saying, "I'm done with you" as we paint with broad brushes and repost unnuanced memes and opinions. We feel vindicated to make "power of the people" to mean power against certain people.
But, what if....
What if we stopped using fear and shame as our primary motivators and the cornerstones of our arguments? What if when we encountered someone who is truly different we didn't shut them out, but we extended our hand instead? What if we could say, "You know, I don't see things that way, but I respect that you do. Would you like to discuss this sometime?" Make cookies. It always helps the awkwardness.
The truth is that if we try to banish fear and shame there will be a vacuum. We have to replace it with something.
I would suggest love and humility.
It's not easy. For anyone. And it's certainly not easy for me. I claim no moral superiority in this. To look into someone's eyes who not only is different but may be, in fact, antagonistic towards you and your way of life or deeply held beliefs, and to say, "I see in you someone made in the image of God and I choose to treat you according to that truth." Pour tea. It helps the humble pie to go down easier.
I am not suggesting that you necessarily change your beliefs. I can tell you for certainty that you will not take my Christian faith from me. I am not just a Christian in name. It's part of my very DNA, I assure you. I am head over heels in love with Jesus. I can't turn it off. I broke off the switch long ago. But, I will share a meal with you and listen to you, even if you are Buddhist, Muslim, Atheist, or just plain not sure. My faith tells me that you are made in God's image and likeness, whether or not you acknowledge Him.
Humility goes a long way. St. John Chrysostom said, "Humility is the root, mother, nurse foundation and bond of all virtue." The book of 1 Peter in the Bible commands us to love each other deeply. Because love covers a multitude of sins.
Does walking in love mean that we never stand up for controversial causes or speak tough things? Of course not. Love must be tough as well as tender. But true love should give us the courage to carefully negotiate and live in the tension of truth and love. It's messy. It's painful at times. It's tricky. It's also beautiful. Speak the truth...in love.
As people of good will, can we move the cultural conversation from Us vs. Them to We Are All In This Together? Can we love through the differences and listen and speak up and be brave and be vulnerable and be true?
Fear and shame are motivators, but make a terrible foundation. Love and humility are really the only way.