The Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents
“These are the times that try men’s souls.” So wrote Thomas Paine in the first of his series of pamphlets formally entitled The American Crisis, and known informally by Paine’s pseudonym, Common Sense. Paine’s agenda was to inspire ambivalent countrymen to participate in the Revolution.
Paine’s remark describes more than British North America in 1776. The times we live in are trying, too. The urgencies and passions of the national election recently concluded have left us exhausted and smarting. We are brought up short when friends and family supposedly well-known to each other discover in one another opinions they never dreamt they had. We are living days where there is a brittle touchiness in the public discourse, and conversation can grow shrill very quickly. Nearly anything said by a person discovered to have different views is hyper-heard, ears listening suspiciously for unspoken implications and inferences, ready to impute to the speaker and the remark a snide or sinister meaning.
This is no way to live.
I have been tending God’s people for a long time, but that pastoral experience offers no break-through insights that might move public discourse past where it is right now. I am aware, though, that it is overheated, and many are not doing too well in effectively communicating with one another. Let me offer advice you didn’t ask for, but I pray you will find edifying generally and helpful specifically. Making no claims whatsoever that you won’t end up in a shouting match anyway, at least for the time being, if you insist on trying it, use these ground rules in political conversation:
Assume that your conversation partner loves the United States. Conversation must be grounded in this basic, respectful assumption. However erroneous their opinions may seem to you, there can be no constructive conversation if you impugn the other’s patriotism. If you begin a conversation openly or secretly questioning the other person’s patriotism, that tells both of you that you didn’t really want rational, constructive conversation anyway.
Talk as much to learn as to persuade. Great clouds of rhetoric are driven by one at the other with no intention of pursuing actual conversation. If all you want is to judge, and attempt to persuade them to your views, don’t bother.
If you feel yourself incapable of talking as much to learn as to persuade, remember the basics…address the point, the premise, the principal and not the personality. Personal judgment- ad hominem it’s called- and challenging a person rather than an idea is very poor debate form, and utterly ineffective for either learning or persuasion.
Talk in person, preferably to a single conversation partner, and not on the telephone or via the internet. The tone and timbre of voice, and intimate subtlety of facial expression, doubles the reliability of interpreting any conversation. In person, you will better govern how you express yourself, and more accurately perceive what your conversation partner means.
Avoid social media. The internet is rather like a bumper sticker- it broadcasts a unilateral broadside statement with no significant invitation to the reader to respond effectively. When people do respond, results are often caustic and ugly. Social media makes it easy to lob a verbal grenade, and say things you wouldn’t have the courage to say in person.
If you feel yourself incapable of resisting social media, 1) try harder to avoid it and 2) don’t do anything after supper. Please. Chances are you’re tired. You’ve just eaten, and your body requires more blood in your abdomen, which means there’s a bit less blood in your brain. You may have had a drink before dinner and perhaps one after dinner as well; if so, your inhibitions have been lowered. Fine. Just don’t get on the internet to express political views after supper. Please. To do so at that time of day, with or without the influence of alcohol, can be about as positive an experience as dialing up an old flame. You don’t want to come to breakfast asking, “What the devil was I thinking last night?!”
Talk while seated, eating a meal or drinking coffee. Standing body language can communicate more than even the occupant of the body consciously knows, and it can intimidate. Talking while seated puts everyone on a more equal footing precisely by not being on your feet. Food and drink are features of every single human life. The table is perhaps the most commonly shared and universally recognized place where human beings may find each other, and if a person is safe enough to sit to table with you, you’ve already said volumes to one another that is good.
…for what it’s worth….
Love you. See you in Church.
| Sunday Holy Eucharist ~ with music
Perhaps you're a visitor on Long Beach Island. Maybe you haven't been in Church for a while and would like to start back. Whatever is going on in your life, you are welcome at Holy Innocents. Your past affiliations don't mean nearly as much to us as your present affiliation with us.
410 South Atlantic Ave
between Atlantic and Beach)
Beach Haven, New Jersey 08008