Originally, I submitted this to the New York Times. Needless to say, they didn't feel like it needed to be published. Also, the next day, President Trump admitted that Russia meddled in the US Elections, so this may not have aged well.
That being said, maybe this article will be like a good cheese; it'll just need some time to sharpen.
The Death of Civil Discourse
Recently, I’ve read several articles, all written by left-leaning authors, indicating that the overall issue with Democrats and Liberals is that we’re ‘too nice’. Well, as a left-leaning author myself, I’d like to respectfully disagree.
First, let me give some insight into my background. I grew up in a moderately-Republican household in Salt Lake City, UT. Growing up, politics was freely discussed in my home and, to this day, a heated debate on hot-button issues is bound to happen if there are more than two people in the same room. I wouldn’t consider my parents to be Conservatives; both have voted for Democratic policies and/or politicians in the past. My parents are the type of “Republicans” who vote for free health care and against gun restrictions. They want their guns, but also want a free trip to the emergency room in case they shoot themselves in the foot. As a pre-teen, I assumed that everyone’s parents shared the same political views as mine. I was wrong.
I began gaining interest in politics during my junior year of high school. It was then, after engaging in more political discussions with my friends, when I learned that many people in UT, even in Salt Lake City, had very Conservative opinions. Salt Lake City is an exceptionally politically divided place. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, otherwise known as the Mormon Church, tried to be politically neutral (or, so they would say back then, and continue to say now). Nevertheless, when I was growing up, membership in the Mormon Church seemed to be a good indicator as to which political party one belonged. The Church may have claimed neutrality, but their fight against the legalization of gay marriage seemed to send a different message. As a child in a Mormon household, as far as I could tell, Mormons were Republicans and Non-Mormons were Democrats.
Although I grew up in the culture, during my last years of University, I began trading in my beliefs for those of the counter-culture. Less than a year after I graduated and got my first real job, I had completely flipped from a Republican Mormon to a Liberal, godless heathen. I discovered that many fellow post-Mormons had similar stories; they’re religious beliefs often changed in lieu of their political ones. It was during that time when I also learned that even young Mormons were shifting politically. Slowly, but surely, Salt Lake City (SLC) was sliding to the Left. For the Conservatives of Utah, that was, and still is a cause for concern.
Political discussions were often had amongst non-believers in bars on SLC’s Main Street. These were our own temples, where we could freely discuss our political views in a respectful manner, while always taking into consideration that many of our parents and family members had opposing religious and political opinions. We were, and still are, liberals, as left-thinking and progressive as any blue pocket on the North-East and West Coasts. We sometimes have differing opinions, but we have created a community and culture wherein the keystone of our unified belief is acceptance; something many of us felt was missing from Mormonism. I believe, with every fiber of my being, that important civil discourses are taking place still in those very same bars. You can visit the ex-Mormon sub-reddit to get a glimpse of what I mean (reddit.com/r/exmormon).
The 'Lake-Stink' Was Too Strong
What's 'Lake-Stink'? Here: Salt Lake Stinks
I am now in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where I’ve been living for the past two-plus years. From what I’ve observed, the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers lean far to the left. In normal conversation, their opinions seem completely aligned with my own. Many democrats in New York City want the same things as their counterparts in SLC. Conversely, the views of those who engage in social media conversations are quite a bit more poignant. Social Media becomes steroids for opinions. Political beliefs thereon become typically loud and unapologetic; there is no fear of offending because the Republicans are guilty, and, as one Mormon scripture reads, “the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center.” (The Book of Mormon: An account written by the hand of Mormon, upon plates taken from the plates of Nephi. (2007). Farmington, UT: LDS First Editions. doi:https://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm/1-ne/16?lang=eng)
There is a slew of antagonistic Twitter accounts, belonging to verified, liberal users, that seems to favor a not-so-nice behavior. Even some of my favorite accounts use degrading language in an articulate attempt to raise themselves above their political opposers. “Elitism”, we call it, in the West. They claim that Republicans and Conservatives don’t play by the rules of civil discourse and, therefore, it’s OK for the Right to get a proverbial taste of their own medicine; Liberals appear more inclined to want an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth scenario. After we all go blind and toothless, maybe Michelle Obama’s voice will echo in our ears, saying, “When they go low, we go high!”; advise that we shirked to implement.
Deep down, in our most honest selves, I think we know that fighting fire with fire isn’t the right answer. One of my favorite documentary filmmakers, Deeyah Khan, seems to echo that sentiment in everything she does. In two of her documentaries, “Jihad: A Story of The Others” and “White Right: Meeting the Enemy”, we can see that hatred breeds most easily amongst those who feel unwanted, undeserving and lonely. The similarities between Western Jihadis and American Neo-Nazis are striking—this might sound crazy, but even radicals crave love. By the end of her documentary (soft spoiler alert), Khan had changed the minds of several radicalized racists; and she did so without once raising her voice or elevating herself. Her example is evidence that, as liberals, being “too nice” is our only shot at winning the hearts and minds of a large portion of our population who are hurting. Maybe, after our world has burned to a crisp, we’ll look back in regret, remembering images from Ms. Khan’s documentaries.
If we so choose, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook can be true tools of democracy; where everyone gets a voice, and anyone can be heard. Often times, though, I see posts and comments that would seep through even the thickest of skin. We treat what we say on social media as if our words have no meaning, specifically because the human interaction is removed. If we could stare in the eyes of those we hope to offend, we might re-phrase our abusive responses. I see a widening divide in our country and I often ask myself, “What is the answer!?” Only my unauthentic self has the nerve to even ask such a silly question. I already know the answer; as do you. What is the answer? Love is the answer. It always has been. It always will be. What if, just for a few months, we put down our torches, refrain from plucking out eyes and scraping out teeth, and just love? Who knows, maybe it’ll change the world, or something like that.
What If I Don’t Know The Right Answer?
Our political divisions have left us with an important question: Do we fight fire with fire, or with water? Do we fight war with war, or with peace? Do we reach across the aisle or do we wait to see which side will crumble in defeat?
Here’s what some people have been saying for a while:
“Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace” – Buddha
“Those who are free of resentful thoughts surely find peace” – Buddha
“When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace” – Jimi Hendrix
Inscribed on the hilt of the Prophet Muhammed's sword: ‘Forgive him who wrongs you; join him who cuts you off; do good to him who does evil to you, and speak the truth although it be against yourself.’
“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable“- John F. Kennedy
“All you need is love” – John Lennon
“I declare that we force Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to eat shrooms and then, shortly thereafter, have unabashed, magical sex with one another. I assume this will solve all of our problems.” -Dallin Greenhalgh
And my favorite:
“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” – Martin Luther King Jr.