Our world is filled with hot button issues. Debates around gun control, climate change, racial tension, police brutality, women’s and LGBTQI rights (just to name a few) fill our social media feeds and the 24-hr news cycle. It seems like everyone has an opinion on everything and wants to argue their point of view. But at the end of the day, does this kind of dialogue do any good? Does it move the needle on the way we think or see the world?
Unfortunately, it feels like the divide is growing and we are even more intent on digging in our heels instead of finding common ground. So, what type of dialogue would be helpful for us to consider a new way of thinking?
A person’s unique worldview is shaped by his or her experiences, environment and relationships. For example, I am the daughter of Nigerian immigrants, I grew up in the deep South and in a very religious home. I also attended a predominately white school and church. My views on the world were deeply shaped by these factors. I grew up believing that all Christians were Republicans, that racism was something to be tolerated and that there was a clear right and wrong answer to most issues.
My college experience was very different from the environment I grew up in. My friend circle expanded to include people from all different backgrounds and walks of life, and my views on the world changed as I began to develop new friendships and immerse myself in new situations. I was forced, in a good way, to question my beliefs and wrestle with why I believed what I did.
My thoughts on LGBTQI issues changed the moment one of my closest friends told me she was a lesbian. She was my friend and I loved her. She was no longer an issue to be discussed, she was person that I loved and wanted the very best for. Sitting with a terrified roommate, who just found out she was pregnant and weighing all the options, forever changed my views on reproductive rights. My views on how we look at faith changed as I began to dialogue with my Muslim, Jewish and Agnostic friends about their own belief systems.
I was forced, in a good way, to question my beliefs and wrestle with why I believed what I did.
Why am I saying all of this?
Because I believe our perspectives on the world can and sometimes should change. We are global citizens living in a world with people from all walks of life. We must take into consideration how we not only care for ourselves but those around us. We can only do this if we are willing to open our ears to their stories and perspectives. This doesn’t mean that all our beliefs and values need to shift, but the question shifts. It becomes, “Can we also hold space for differing views? Can we slow down enough to truly listen to the perspective of the other and see where we might find common ground first?”
I think that most of the struggle around hot button issues comes from the fact that we tend to surround ourselves with people who are just like us. We tend to follow people with our same point of view on social media, only read authors that we agree with and watch movies with people that look like us. We surround ourselves with people, things and ideas that simply re-enforce the belief system we already have and so we end up preaching to the choir. We continue to widen the divide between Us and Them.
In order to truly affect change, we have to start with ourselves and begin to ask ourselves some tough questions:
1. When was the last time someone or something challenged my way of thinking?
2. When was the last time I had a conversation with someone I disagreed with and chose to listen to their point of view?
3. When was the last time I read a book, watched a movie or saw a play that changed the way I look at the world?
4. Are all of my close friends exactly like me? Same race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status?
The beauty of our world is that we all come from different walks of life. We all have something to learn from each other. We need to take the time to allow differing worldviews to influence our own. To create space for opposing opinions and work to find common ground so that we might create a world that best protects and cares for all its citizens.
I believe that it all starts with creating opportunities for our own worldview to be broadened. The wise Ghandi said it best when he said, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.”
Images via Ashley Johnson