Disagreeing Without Being Disagreeable

standaloneSome of my recent posts have generated concerns that I’m getting “too political” on this blog, that my criticism of talk radio is an attack on the political views of those who listen to talk radio.  Not so.  As I said in a subsequent comment, “the vitriol doesn’t only come from one side. You can balance the ranting and raving of talk radio with some of the smug, holier-than-thou comments that come from the liberal elite.”  My concern here is not with politics, but with the level and tone of our public discourse.  We don’t seem to be able to talk to each other these days without yelling at each other. 

And so I was pleased to see this good example, forwarded by a reader.  Chuck Colson was asked by a young mother shortly before the start of the new school year how she could help her children understand that she does not support the President’s policies.  I’ll let you read the question and Chuck’s answer for yourself, but please notice how he turns down the intensity of the question, how he moves from generalities to specifics, and how he helps this woman voice her real concerns without disrespecting the office of the president.   While Colson’s own views are conservative and Christian, I think he sets an example here the whole country could learn from.

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My question relates to parenting Christian children who attend public schools. Specifically, I want to know how to help my children understand that I do not support the current President’s policies and values, as many of them are not biblical. I am furthermore concerned about his September 8th address to a captive public school audience. What kind of conversation do I have with them if they are in attendance at school the day that so much solitary focus is given to the President’s agenda?  —Jennifer Pixley

From Chuck Colson:

Good question, Jennifer. I have two words for you: honesty and respect. First, you need to be honest with your kids about your opinions of some of the President’s policies. But I would recommend that you don’t paint with broad strokes. Be specific. Tell them which policies you disagree with, and why.

For example, you may want to tell them why you don’t support the president’s policies on abortion, because we know that every child—even in the womb—is precious to God and created in His image.

But respect is also important. You may wisely criticize the policy, but it does no good to disparage the man who is the elected leader of our country. In fact, encourage your kids to pray for the President (as I do every day)—that he would be filled with God’s wisdom. It’s the right thing to do, and it will show your children that even though you disagree with (perhaps many of) his policies, as a good citizen, you respect the office of the President.

By the way, if the President talks to the students about the importance of education—as the White House says he will—it could be very positive. But whatever he says, use this as a teaching opportunity to discuss the President’s speech with your kids. Tell them the things you approve of or things that you don’t approve of. You need to be very balanced with them.

Chuck Colson

Blame it on Talk Radio

Old radioOne of my Facebook friends asked a question yesterday.  He said, “Somebody help me here. Didn’t Reagan and H.W. Bush make speeches at the outset of school years? Why the uproar over Obama doing the same thing?” 

The first few responses were positive.  People said things like, “Good question” or, “Yes, that’s true” or, “I don’t know what the uproar is about.”  But very quickly a fight broke out on Facebook, with some people affirming the President’s right to speak to children in our country’s public schools while others made comparisons to George Orwell’s “1984” and the educational policies of Adolf Hitler and Chairman Mao.  26 comments later my friend wrote, “I think I’m going to wait a while before I ask another political question.” 

It seems to be that way these days, that you can’t ask a political question without starting a political fight, and the fights that break out seem to break out along party lines. It’s as if we’ve chosen up sides, put on our red and blue uniforms, and gone to war with each other.  It’s a civil war, but there is nothing civil about it.

The rhetorical attacks against our current president have been especially vicious, but long before Barack Obama people were ridiculing the person and policies of George W. Bush.   When did we get like this?  And how?  Who told us it was OK to disrespect the office of the president of the United States? 

Talk radio, that’s who. 

I don’t listen to talk radio as a rule, but the few times I’ve tuned in I have been shocked by the vitriol ( vit-ri-ol, noun: something highly caustic or severe in effect, as criticism) that pours out of my speakers.  And every attack leads to a counterattack, so that even without touching the dial on my radio the volume and intensity of the debate goes up, whether there is someone actually there in the studio or the talk show host is only reacting to what he has read and heard from “the other side.”  I feel my blood pressure going up when I listen to talk radio, my grip tightening on the steering wheel, and I wonder how it would affect me if I listened all the time.* 

What if we treated our brains like we treated our stomachs, and tried to put only good things in there?  What if we did “touch that dial,” and tuned in to a classical music station or listened to a good book on tape (maybe even the Good Book)?  It’s there, in the Good Book, that you find Paul saying, “Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8). 

I wonder how our public discourse might change if we did that.

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*Incidentally, my dad had a fender-bender a few years ago, and when I asked him how it happened he confessed, sheepishly, that he had been listening to talk radio at the time.