This week in our spotlight I want to once again discuss the ever-growing division in our society. It’s not that we have more disagreements than in the past—it’s the fact that the respect for our differences seems to have almost entirely diminished. Why is that? What’s happened in our culture that approves of outright nastiness in our communications at every level—from the politician to family members? What in our enculturation has bred the level of anger, disrespect, and violence that we see today?
Times change—of that there is little disagreement. When I went to high school it was not at all uncommon for gun racks in pickup trucks to have a shotgun or rifle hanging in them while parked in the school parking lot. Today, that would be unacceptable. That said, we are a society much more in tune with the rights of the individual—much more sensitive about issues of race, sexual preference, spiritual attitudes, and so forth. So, if we are more sensitive overall about individual preferences then it seems counterintuitive to also be more violent toward others. How does this happen?
We live at a time when political speech can literally be dangerous. There are those on all sides of the political spectrum that can become so agitated by what others who disagree with them have to say that they become violent. We live at a time when we need law enforcement as much or more than any time in history and yet there is less and less respect paid to those who are there to come to our rescue should we need it.
There is an admonishment in the Good Book regarding judgment. Perhaps we have so distanced ourselves from some of the old basic assumptions underlying our value system that we rush to judgment, and that leads to our urge to deal out punishment of some form or another. Verbal assaults are much more common than physical violence today, but together they genuinely represent a challenge to our way of life.
I am reminded of another coaching from the Good Book: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Many years ago I hosted an event where law enforcement fed the homeless during a Christmas feast. We held the dinner, complete with gifts such as warm socks and gloves, in the largest homeless center in Salt Lake City. A local reporter asked me why we did this and I can remember my internal voice prompting the answer, “Whatever you do unto the least of thy brethren, you do unto me.”
I don’t think you need to be a Christian, or a believer for that matter in anything beyond the rights of the individual, to recognize the inherent value in treating others as we would like to be treated. Indeed, when we treat them otherwise we have given tacit consent to be treated in the same ill-dignified manner that we may have treated others.
If we are to ever quiet the anger and animus that seems to have gained so much strength in our culture today, we will have to do that one person at a time, one good deed at a time, one patient hearing at a time, one respectful act at a time, and so forth. As difficult as this may seem sometimes, it is nevertheless incumbent on each of us who wish to see a more harmonious society thrive.
I would like to suggest that we remember this the next time we are ready to insist that we have the only right way.
My thoughts anyway—what are yours?