I started (well, resurrected is probably more accurate) this blog because I felt that there is value in being a voice in any number of discussions. That’s come to be largely (but not exclusively) Mormon-related topics. Today, I’m going to be a bit more general, although my thoughts build from a Mormon framework and certainly have relevance within Mormonism.
The Internet frequently challenges my hope in humanity. Every time I read a comments section (I know, I should know better) or see Facebook debates (or engage in them myself) the sheer stupidity and vehement vitriol that abounds crushes my belief that civil discussion can happen (I mean, where is the love?).
I like to think that I’m a fairly level headed, easy-going person (chill most people would say…whatever that means exactly), who can see both sides of most issues and present ideas in a way that doesn’t alienate people. Sometimes I lose sight of this, but a good friend (Kennerley Roper Bruner) recently shared some thoughts on Facebook about the need for open spaces for discussion, particularly for people that find themselves in ‘grey spaces’ (where I, and likely many of you readers, find myself). She wrote:
“In its highest forms, I believe love is empathy, the ability to show kindness and understanding for those who are different from you, even for those with whom you strongly disagree. And I believe in this kind of love, that it exists, that people can wield it, and that it has the power to change the world for the better.
So I want to add to the discussion. I want to expand the discussion. I want to let love win, in all of its forms. #SoLetLoveWin.
You don’t have to agree with my particular position on issues. That isn’t the purpose of this post. What I want is a space where people can come together in productive discussion, share experiences, and exercise empathy for others. Sometimes I feel like my gray voice was lost in a black and white screaming match, or worse, that my voice was unacceptable because it didn’t ascribe to any strict ideology.”
I think that creating spaces for dialogue is immensely important, so I’m adding my voice to Kennerley’s, pleading for love, understanding, and empathy. To start, I’ve got some rules that I follow as I try to bring empathy and understanding to various places, being a minority voice. These aren’t flawless or necessarily important for everyone to follow, but help me keep my comments and participation loving and productive.
Thumper’s Law (Modified)
Thumper’s Law refers to the classic Disney film Bambi and the excellent character of Thumper, who espoused the idea that “If you can’t say nuffin’ nice then don’t say nuffin’ at all.” Now, I don’t think that’s one-hundred percent accurate, since I think that there is a time and a place to say things that are not nice, hence the modification. For me, Thumper’s Law becomes “If you can’t say something productive, then don’t say anything.” As a naturally critical and skeptical sort of person I find it incredibly easy to see flaws in logic or argumentation and am often tempted to wield my shiny pin of skepticism to shatter the beautiful balloons of ideas and suggestions that are being presented. Yet, simply shooting ideas down does little to build a productive dialogue and can crush people’s willingness to share, not only harming the discussion at hand, but the larger community, which I believe (at least in the abstract) benefits from a true multiplicity of voices. Similarly, if the context does not seem like it’ll be conducive to productive discussion and may ‘fall on deaf ears’ as they say, I try to avoid saying anything, although some days, I just can’t help myself.
I’ve found that being authentic receives a favorable response. I know I feel better about chatting with someone if I feel like they’re being authentic and real. It helps keep things personal and to reduce the chance of people saying terrible things because the ideas become linked with an individual, who ideally makes it easier to visualize and understand why someone would believe and think that way.
This has been particularly valuable as I navigate differing beliefs within Mormonism. Testimony meeting is one of my favorite Sundays (which may be something of a shock given my distaste for other similar cultural bits and for much of the ideology that tends to permeate throughout them). I love the opportunity to hear from a variety of people with differing perspectives to see the way that God works in the lives of people.
Similarly, I think being authentic lends credibility to your thoughts and makes people more likely to be authentic themselves. There’s a sense of vulnerability that comes with authenticity that is helpful for building spaces for productive discussion.
Build Common Ground
Establishing some sort of common ground is immensely useful. It may be very simple, like a definitional agreement, but any little bit helps. I have also found it useful to place my comments and thoughts in the context of the larger discussion acknowledging things that others have said (it has been most helpful when I can reference people by name—I think it helps make it feel safe and shows that I have been actually listening to what people are saying).
This can be immensely difficult. As I mentioned above, my tendency is to poke holes in things, which does little to build at all. As I try and think about whoever I’m in a discussion with as part of the same team, working towards some larger goal, rather than an opponent or fool that needs correcting, I tend to have an easier time expressing myself and not becoming frustrated.
Know What I’m Talking About
I need to be sure that I’m not spouting a bunch of malarkey, poppycock, or what have you. One of my least favorite things is when people act knowledgeable, but have absolutely no idea what they are talking about. I hate the spewing of quotes/statistics/figures/facts with no support. Especially when I try and confirm them, but find nothing. Or worse, find that whatever was shared is absolute hogwash.
Particularly since I tend to comment when I’m sharing some thoughts that are outside the mainstream, I try to be absolutely certain that what I’m saying can be backed up. Luckily I usually carry the Internet in my pocket, so if push comes to shove I can do a quick Google search to confirm my thoughts before sharing. If I can’t find the data or other info I was looking for, but still feel like something needs to be said, I’ll hedge my comments and re-organize them to make it clear that I’m not sharing factual info.
Humor is a key to having productive, contention-free discussions. Partially because I snarkily respond to most things and because I find that it relieves tension, I tend to be somewhat self-deprecating in my comments. I point out personal flaws and idiosyncrasies and the somewhat ludicrous nature of my beliefs. I am pretty self-aware of how my various beliefs look from the outside and try to incorporate acknowledgment of that self-awareness into my commentary.
Especially if I’m interacting with people that know me to some degree it’s usually an elephant in the room until I bring stuff up. It also makes whoever else I’m discussing with less afraid of offending me and thus more free to be authentic. I mean, this could also be that I’m like the least intimidating person in the world as my scrawny, tall self isn’t going to do any damage to anyone. I mean, I feel better when I somewhat snarkily am self-deprecating. Part of my authenticity I suppose.
So Let Love Win
I guess the biggest take-away here is that we should be working be make the world a more loving place, to let love win. If we all have that as our goal, good things will happen. It’ll still be tough, but I think it’d drastically improve the quality of discussion that is had amongst the people of the world.
Maybe this is another reminder that I need to weigh in more on other issues of the world. That I need to engage to gain understanding and try to empathize with people better, rather than twitching my mustache at their seeming stupidity. As the walrus said, “The time has come…to talk of many things: Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–Of cabbages–and kings–And why the sea is boiling hot–And whether pigs have wings.”
Let’s hope our conversations go better than that of the Walrus, Carpenter, and Oysters and remember that as some lads from Liverpool once said, all you need is love.
 “I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually.”-Brigham Young
Also, Doctrine and Covenants 58:26-28 about not needing to be commanded in all things, combined with the warning in 3 Nephi 11:29 about contention (which is not the same as discussion or even disagreement).
 I stole this from Bruce C. Hafen’s address “Love is Not Blind,” which is a fantastic piece about navigating ambiguity in productive ways. The entire thing has shaped my perception of how I should participate in discussions (particularly in Church) and the influence can likely be seen throughout this post.
 A testimony meeting is held once a month during the hour of Church set aside for Sacrament Meeting. It’s like a spiritual open mic hour, where anyone in the congregation can come and share beliefs, experiences, thoughts, etc. Some people are particular about what exactly qualifies and I used to fall in that category, but have since decided that as long as people are sharing what is true to their lived experience, that’s good enough for me.
 Some people make it really difficult to give them the benefit of the doubt though, let alone to imagine that we’re working together. Again, one of those things that is great in the abstract, but gets messy and complicated when I think of certain individuals. But, I’ve detailed my (righteous—naturally) judgment problems elsewhere.
 Besides perhaps look at you like you just said something unbelievably stupid. I’m still no good at controlling my facial reactions. That’ll probably get me in trouble some day. Luckily, it is not this day…