I try to stay out of those firey Facebook posts, I really do. The ones where someone is sure they are right, and most of the rest of the commenters waste their time attempting fruitlessly to show the rabid, small-minded attacker the error of his (or her) ways. The posts that circle around religion, guns and the like. This one began with a simple, open statement of acceptance. The original post could have been about anything, really: religion or divorce or animal rights or sexual preference, but it polarized and spiraled into a defensive, angry discussion of who was right in their interpretation of the Christian religion. But I saw all of the commenters circling in a relatively small circle, so I threw my words in the ring.
I don’t ever intend to change anyone’s belief system, but I do always intend to make them think about it, question it and wonder if they are, indeed, as right as they think they are. I don’t think that any beliefs can stay relevant if they are never questioned.
Years ago when I attempted this sort of debate, I always lost. I didn’t have the life experience to defend my thoughts completely. Now I have more of that experience. Know where I got it? World travel. Immersing myself in other cultures. I gained it by learning about people so very different from me and how they think, and what they believe, and how they reason through those beliefs. There isn’t any one culture that gave me this experience. From Native American prairie tribes, to France, from West Indies Islanders to the Inuit, and from the Mayan descendants of Central America, to Hawiians, Tibetan Buddhists and Bali Hindus, I have learned from every culture I’ve experienced.
Every touch with culture gives a broader perspective and a larger cabinet of tools for interpreting interactions with other people and their beliefs. Interacting with other cultures is also guaranteed to change and strengthen your own. Part of my current belief system allows me to be open and accepting of any other culture, religion and people. I don’t think you can convince someone who doesn’t have that same openness of your own views. You can only gently show them where there may be gaping holes in their own beliefs. I still have so much to learn, but in this recent instance, I succeeded in a portion of my assertion. How? By stating things that every kid knows, but that we forget and unlearn as we become adults. The things we forget by living in our one culture, experiencing only our own kind, never questioning the narrow path that is laid before us.
I recently bid for a writing job that called for a “World Traveler Writer” where I was asked what kind of perspectives I would have trouble representing. He was asking what I couldn’t do and which kinds of people I don’t relate to. This was my response:
I have lived on both sides of the political spectrum, from Libertarian Republican Midwest farm girl, to Seattle tree hugging Democrat. I was brought up atheist but sent to a religious school. I lived inner city and had friends who were homeless, drug-addicted pregnant dropouts, but was schooled with the wealthiest of suburban aristocratic brats. And yes, I know plenty of beach bathing CEOs. My family is full of hunters and farmers, but my friends are mostly environmentalists and humanitarians. I know the thoughts and activities of gun-loving, zombie-apocalypse-anticipating survivalists as well as peace-loving Buddhists. I know mystics and fortune tellers, and fundamentalists. I know 300 pound foodies and food-fearful yard-gardeners, people with eight kids, and those who want none. Gay, straight, trans and bi. And lawyers and the permanently unemployed who live on the edge of society. And I get along with all of them. I am interested in all of them and I have learned something from each of them.
In short, I’ve made my life about relating to people who are different from me, rather than the same. And experiences like that change you. I’m pretty accustomed to all that.
I’m sure I can’t relate to everyone. I hope I can’t, because I look forward to more challenges. I don’t claim to understand self-immolation, for instance. And I’ve never been in a culture where as a woman, I would be beaten or stoned if I didn’t cover my face, or if I danced in public, or walked to the market without a male family member as an escort, or talked to someone of the opposite sex. But when I can add a little depth, thought, and perhaps calmness to a heated discussion, I just might do that. Below is exactly what I posted on the Facebook thread, in response to the closed-mindedness I came across. I hope it’s universal enough that it won’t seem like a petty opinion on a Facebook post the next time I read it:
-If you can interpret past polygamy, rape, slavery, (even though the 2000-year old book promotes it) why is love and acceptance of everyone so freakin’ hard?
In response to “It doesn’t matter what each of ‘us’ thinks, God gets to decide, see you in Judgement”:
-It kinda does matter what each of us thinks, particularly if your thoughts and beliefs lead to imprisoning/mistreatment of those who do not believe what you believe. All of us are ‘us’ and when you exclude people through your belief system, you miss out on a lot of love and understanding. I wish you peace and eventual understanding of those who seem so different from you.