We Don’t Have To Agree

I wasn’t sure how the last e-mail and essay I wrote would go over. As you can probably imagine, when you’re writing about a dogma — specifically, religion — it can go over poorly.

But, although the unsubscribe rate to the e-mail list was double the norm, the response was overwhelmingly positive. Including from people who didn’t agree with me.

That’s how it should be.

I’m wrong all the time. If I didn’t regularly seek out people (not just friends, but books, blogs, and other media) I disagreed with I’d never know when I was wrong. And then I’d never change my mind about my own beliefs or ideas. I can’t think of a worse way to live life than pretending to never be wrong and, as a result, never changing my mind. (Aside: this is why it infuriates me that people consider politicians who “flip flop” as unworthy of office. I want my representatives to change their minds based on the evidence!)

That doesn’t mean that every time I see something I disagree with it changes my mind, of course. What it does is help me understand the other point of view. And the most important question I can ask myself then is, “is it possible I’m the one who’s wrong here?” Sometimes I am, sometimes I’m not.

One of the saddest aspects of growing up in the suburbs is that suburbs are cultural dead zones. For example, I didn’t have non-white friends growing up. Sure, I had friends from other countries or other denominations of the same religion I was being raised in, but that’s not enough. Homogeny does not build a well-rounded character or empathy or compassion.

When I finally went to University in Detroit and befriended an Indian guy, and a Muslim guy, and a black guy, and a gay guy, it had a profound impact on me. I’m sad I didn’t keep up those friendships — I’m bad at keeping in touch with people, mostly because I’m a very hands-off type friend and people read that as something other than what it is — but they all had an effect on me.

It wasn’t until I saw my friend being tailed by security at a store just because of his skin color that I realized, “oh, wow, that is a real problem, isn’t it? I’ve quite literally never been followed by security and this happens to him daily? That’s not right.”

It wasn’t until a friend couldn’t legally marry his boyfriend that I learned that we didn’t all actually have equal rights and if I’m not part of the solution then I’m part of the problem. Being quiet about injustice is about as bad as vocally supporting injustice. (Which is why some of the best voices in the church state separation cause are the religious folks who are vocal about upholding that part of the constitution.)

It wasn’t until a friend went through emotional upheaval because she got pregnant, didn’t want children, was not in a position to care for a child, and did not want anything to do with the “sperm donor” that I learned that women need more support in these situations to do whatever they feel is best. Abortion is a completely valid option in many situations and whether it’s legal or not it will often be done anyway. But if it’s legal it’s less burdensome on the individual and the community. (Example: many women in Poland get abortions, but since it’s illegal here they have to go to Czech or Germany and be secretive about it for fear of repercussions. Or they do it in a dangerous “backroom” style because they can’t afford a trip to Czech or Germany.)

And it wasn’t until a friend who worked two minimum wage jobs and went to school full time, but was on food stamps because she didn’t come from a nice family that would or could help support her, that I learned that most people on welfare are probably not lazy bums trying to take advantage of the system. Does it hurt me if a small percentage of my taxes go to a system that helps my friends and a lot of other people? I don’t see how it does.

These are all things I’d heard about, of course, but they were kind of just concepts. They weren’t real until I saw they were real. And sometimes my previous thoughts about these matters were in complete opposition to what they are now.

This is why I’m happy to be friends with people who I disagree with, even staunchly. That’s not to say I won’t be upset if I feel they’re doing something detrimental to themselves or others. And it’s not to say that we’ll ever come to agreement on certain ideas. But if we’ve done it right then in the course of our friendship I’ll learn something that will change my mind and hopefully they will, too.

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