Has anyone else listened to the current political debates playing out on social media and feel that it all seems familiar? Not as is “this argument happened last time,” but some thing even closer to home than that? Am I the only one that thinks the two sides are beginning to resemble a couple in the midst of a divorce going at each other? And I’m not talking about the “oh, they are just drifting apart” kind, but the “should we get the police here before we have to call an ambulance” kind?

Yeah, America needs marriage counseling pronto.  And I say marriage counseling for a reason. When two people don’t get along, you don’t just tell them they need unity… they are already united whether they want to be or not (just like we are in America). You don’t let them blame external forces for dividing them. You tell them one thing: they need to sit down and listen to each other. And not just listen, but learn to practice what is called active listening:

According to experts in the field of communication, active listening means that you possess and have developed a specific kind of communication skill that allows you to fully hear what another person is trying to say.

There are many ways to do this, but the article that I quoted above lists five good places where America (aka “you reading this”) could start:

  1. Let your partner speak”This simply means that you should refrain from arguing your case until your partner finishes stating her or his position.”
  2. Put yourself in your partner’s shoes”During times of conflict, you should enter the conversation with specific goals of what you would like to learn from your mate – and not your talking points.”
  3. Don’t jump to conclusions”Even when folks are trying to listen, they sometimes assume that they know what their mate will say before the words can escape their mouth.”
  4. Ask questions”Avoid asking questions disguised as accusations. Instead, focus on knowledge that you truly need in order to better understand your partner’s position.
  5. Paraphrase what your partner says”Be aware there is a big difference between paraphrasing and parroting. In other words, don’t engage in a verbatim account or take on a litigious tone.”

Notice what this advice doesn’t say: “Quote Bible verses that say you should listen more than speak to the one you need to listen to” “Tell them that other factors are dividing you and there are the reasons why you can’t get along.” “Minimize their point of view by saying your point of view is just as important or more so than theirs.”

Look, I believe in unity. I believe in speaking in love and not hate. But too many times we use the ideas of unity, speaking in love, letting no unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, we are all the same on the inside, the world is changed by your example and not your opinion, the media is dividing us so turn it off, etc to silence the other “side” rather than to actively listen to them.

To put this another way, even good responses can be the wrong responses when utilized at the wrong time or with the wrong intentions.

I hate to have to bring it up, but those in power usually use the concept of “unity” to force their political stance on those that they have power over. And even if you don’t buy that, any concept like “unity” has to be defined, and different people will have different definitions. If the goal is unity, then one definitive version of what that means will have to win out. And everyone else will be forced to follow the winner.

metamodern-faith-avatarTherefore, unity is not really a great goal at this point. Maybe someday, but not now. Besides, we have had unity forced upon us in America already. It hasn’t been working all that great, especially in recent years. We don’t need to ignore our differences, or even acknowledge them and then gloss over them in pursuit of one side’s view of unity. We need marriage counseling. We need to understand each other. We need to see each other as humans and not as sides to be opposed. To some reading this, that is unity. But to those that haven’t benefited from the majority’s view of “unity” so far in America, it is actually a much higher goal. Equality.

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