We Need to Talk: COVID-19 and the Culture Wars

Nearly every issue has become fodder for political combat in our polarized society, so I was not surprised when the COVID-19 pandemic proved to be no exception. Depending on which side of the Red/Blue divide we’re on, the virus is:

  • A source of wildly overblown fearmongering. The coronavirus gets more attention because it’s new, but the flu actually kills more people in the U.S. and is thus more dangerous. We should ignore the hype and go about our business as usual.
  • Armageddon. Our lives are about to change drastically. Hospitals will be overwhelmed. Millions of people will die. We must cancel everything immediately in order to prevent imminent worldwide disaster.

As each new day brings constantly revised case numbers and a climbing death toll, culture warriors on the cable news networks have managed to stir a generous dose of character assassination into the mix. The Facebook and Twitter meme wars have begun. Blame and finger-pointing abound.

Some conservatives have accused those in the liberal/progressive camp of actually hoping millions of people die and the stock market crashes so Donald Trump will be defeated in November’s presidential election. Some on the liberal/progressive side have accused folks in the conservative camp of not caring whether Grandma dies as long as the stock market stays up and Trump gets reelected. Good grief. I wish I were making this up.

“Our hyper-polarization is so strong that we don’t even assess a potential health crisis in the same way,” Jennifer McCoy, a Georgia State political science professor who studies polarization, told a Reuters reporter (link HERE). This “impedes our ability to address it.” 

For my husband Pete and I, the COVID-19 crisis is intensely personal. That’s because we check the boxes on several of the at-risk categories (age, lung disease, heart problems, high blood pressure, diabetes, BINGO!). All these risk factors could make the coronavirus extremely dangerous for us. Suffice it to say, we are taking this threat very seriously. Ugh. Prayers appreciated!

Pete was hospitalized at the end of February with a pneumonia-type virus. Upon his release, his medical team told him to stay home until further notice to avoid being exposed to some of the virulent flu strains already going around our community because his immune system is so compromised. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve voluntarily quarantined myself along with him to avoid catching anything that I could then pass to him. And that’s before the COVID-19 saga started.

Some use the argument that “flu kills 50,000 people a year” as a reason for not taking COVID-19 seriously. Influenza does indeed infect hundreds of thousands of people annually, even folks who were responsible enough to get vaccinated. And it kills way too many of them. But the answer is not to downplay the seriousness of COVID-19. The answer is to take all communicable diseases, including influenza, more seriously.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was a bad idea to pass along one’s illness to others. In early 2018, Pete and I stopped at a lovely little buffet for lunch on our way to visit cousins in North Carolina. The young woman who waited on us was highly contagious, judging from her constant sniffling, coughing and sneezing. We never arrived in North Carolina, but had to return home when we became ill ourselves. Pete wound up in the hospital.

Pete and I tried not to be judgmental toward the food server we believe gave us the flu that ultimately landed Pete in the hospital. We knew she probably couldn’t afford to stay home from work because of “a few sniffles,” since she most likely didn’t get paid sick days. And she may not have completely understood the risk involved in spreading influenza to an older person like my husband.

But I can’t believe the number of supposedly mature adults who neglect to cover their coughs and sneezes, and who show up in public obviously ill. I’m not even talking about people who go to work sick because they can’t afford to stay home. I’m talking about people who go to church, restaurants, public gatherings and other places where their presence is in no way required. It’s as if people have a hard time understanding why something that is not a problem for them could possibly be a problem for someone else. 

And this is part of what makes the current COVID-19 crisis so scary for my husband and I, a reason that has nothing to do with right-wing or left-wing politics.

I’m a fan of encouraging people not to panic, although I’m sure some would quibble with me on what constitutes a “panic response.” For me, a panic response includes things like buying up a store’s entire supply of toilet paper and leaving none for our neighbors. Or avoiding certain people simply because they look like they might be of Chinese ancestry as opposed to maintaining distance from someone because they’re coughing and sneezing all over the place. It is NOT a “panic response” to follow the suggestions of public health experts, including those suggestions that may inconvenience us like staying away from crowds when we’re sick.

The tricky part is figuring out how to separate the progressive vs. conservative political posturing from the information we need to know in order to protect ourselves.The hysteria I’ve noticed so far comes mostly from politicians (of both stripes) and the news media, while the information from the public health people and medical experts has been very helpful in figuring out how to deal with our current situation. 

As people in the high-risk group, my husband and I have elected to listen to our doctors and medical experts, not politicians and news media pundits. Here are some very good sites I trust to be reliable sources of unbiased information about COVID-19. The information is provided by trained medical professionals whose only agenda is to help us stay healthy:

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Includes up-to-date information on global locations where cases have appeared, symptoms, steps to prevent illness and what to do when sick. Link HERE.
  • Mayo Clinic. Includes an overview on symptoms, diagnosis and treatment, along with risk factors, prevention, travel advice and up-to-the-minute news about the outbreak. Link HERE.
  • WebMD. More coronavirus news and updates, how to prepare your family for disruptions that might occur, ways to toughen up your immune system and how to separate facts from hype. Link HERE.

The truth about COVID-19, according to these experts? Children and young adults may experience the new virus the same way they experience a common cold or a mild case of flu. On the other hand, elderly people or people of any age with serious underlying chronic health conditions such as heart disease, lung disease or diabetes face a potentially life-threatening risk if infected. 

And yes, COVID-19 does appear to be more serious than the flu, according to these experts. Even if the fatality rate turns out to be closer to 1 percent than the initial 3.4 percent figure cited by the World Health Organization, this is still 10 times deadlier than influenza in a bad year.

Am I worried about COVID-19? I’d be lying big time if I said I wasn’t. My husband and I are trying to keep a lid on our anxiety by following the advice of our health care team and doing what we can to keep ourselves healthy. But given the stakes for us, we’d really love for the political posturing by culture warriors on both sides to stop so we can get down to the business of addressing the crisis in front of us constructively.

If they really want to be responsible, the news media could use the current COVID-19 situation as a powerful “teachable moment.” Here’s a chance to impress on the general population the vital importance of good handwashing hygiene, covering coughs or sneezes properly and staying home when sick – whether we’re talking about COVID-19 or the more garden-variety influenza.

The media can also educate the public on why illnesses that are little more than a nuisance to younger/healthier people can land at-risk people in intensive care or worse. Many otherwise intelligent people still fail to understand this.

If they really want to be responsible, elected officials of both parties could work together on policies like paid sick leave that make it easier for people to stop coming to work sick. They could collaborate in a bipartisan way to improve our health care system so people can get the medical treatment they need to avoid passing their illnesses to others. 

If the rest of us want to be responsible, we could all take off our political/ideological hats for just a few minutes, eliminate the name-calling, the shouting, the trolling and the flaming, and have a rational discussion about how to help each other through the current crisis.

This could go a long way toward saving lives in the face of communicable diseases of all kinds.

Book excerpt: We need to talk

Note: This is the first excerpt from my book in progress, which will examine the polarization ripping apart our society and discuss an appropriate Christian response.

Sometimes I want to stick my fingers in my ears and yell “SHUT UP!” over and over at the top of my lungs until the madness stops.

One cannot turn on the news, sign in to a social media account or go out in public without getting a daily dose of the name-calling, accusations, counter-accusations, demonizing of opponents and overall nastiness that characterize our society’s Culture Wars:

You know who’s causing all the problems in this country, don’t you? … It’s those racist, misogynistic Rethuglican deplorables who want to impose their narrow version of morality on the rest of us. …  Those whining Libtard crybabies and snowflakes who want safe spaces and free stuff. … Those naïve socialists who would destroy businesses and bankrupt the government with their outrageous demands. … Those greedy capitalists who stuff their pockets while robbing honest hard-working people of their retirement funds. … Those lazy welfare recipients with their infuriating sense of entitlement. … Those wealthy elites who have too much already and want more, more, more. … Those incompetent teachers who staff our lousy public schools. … Those illegal immigrants stealing our jobs. … Those SUV drivers contributing to global warming. … Those environmental wackos who want us to give up eating hamburgers. … Those obese gluttons who gorge on junk food and drive up health care costs. … Those fat-shamers who encourage eating disorders with their unattainable standards of attractiveness. … Those feminazis destroying the family. … Those cisgender, heterosexual white men who refuse to acknowledge their privilege. … Those people who own guns. … Those people who want to take away our guns. … Those fundamentalist Christians, those radical Muslims, those godless atheists, those New-Age navel gazers … Those self-centered Boomers running up the national debt with no regard for how their decisions will affect future generations. … Those teenagers who watch too much TV, play too many video games, listen to music with depraved lyrics, do drugs, drop out of school, get pregnant and join gangs. … Of course, none of this would be happening if it weren’t for those helicopter parents who fail to teach their hopelessly coddled trophy kids personal responsibility!!!

Whew! Have we left anyone out?

Here in the U.S., one could see news commentators practically salivating as they proclaimed the 2016 demolition derby of a presidential election to be the ugliest mudfest in history. The venom shows no signs of abating as we gear up for a 2020 campaign season that began with an impeachment trial. 

Even before 2016, we had come to regard name-calling and character assassination as normal for election campaigns. On the cable news networks, political pundits and other guests routinely talk over each other and shout each other down while debating the latest hot-button issues. “Flaming” and “trolling” have become popular sports in the anonymous comments sections that follow some news articles and blog posts. 

We have Climate Wars — those who believe climate change is caused by human behavior versus those who believe the former are perpetrating an elaborate hoax. We have Health Care Wars — those who wish to preserve the private insurance system versus those who want government-funded Medicare for All. We have Class Wars — the 99 percent versus the 1 percent. We have Education Wars — ferocious debates over issues such as high stakes testing, merit pay for teachers and private-school vouchers. We have Mommy Wars — mothers scrutinizing and judging other mothers’ decisions on everything from working outside the home to letting one’s toddler use a pacifier. 

This seething anger has seeped into the public square and manifests itself as an epidemic of rudeness. Many people I encounter in my everyday life seem more cranky and defensive than they used to be, and some seem to be spoiling for a fight. A car with a middle-aged driver sports a bumper sticker that tells us what we can eat if we don’t like the owner’s driving. We have Road Rage (shouting, cursing and flinging obscene gestures at other drivers), Airport Rage (yelling at ticket agents and flight attendants), Sidewalk Rage (reacting violently because people in front of us are walking too slowly), Parking Lot Rage (engaging in an angry standoff with another driver over a parking space) and Starbucks Rage (working oneself into a ballistic frenzy over the color and design of a coffee cup).

Sadly, those of us who identify as Christians are in no position to judge secular society when it comes to polarization. We often stand justifiably accused of stirring the pot ourselves — and not in a good way. Progressive and conservative Christians regularly skewer each other on Web sites such as Patheos. And we have our Worship Wars (which transcend denominational boundaries) — Christians locked in an unyielding struggle over whether a congregation’s music and worship style should be traditional or contemporary. 

As I’ve paid closer attention to the steady drumbeat of vitriol that makes up the background noise of our daily lives, I find myself thinking, “No wonder we’ve become a nation of people with clenched teeth and balled up fists.”

It would be bad enough if the tide of anger and disrespect — both in our churches and our larger society — served only to put people in a surly, antisocial mood. Unfortunately, the damage doesn’t end there. Our finger-pointing epidemic leads to everything from Congressional gridlock to violence against individuals who belong to maligned groups. While we bicker incessantly, our real problems go unaddressed — raging war in various global hotspots creates millions of refugees; thousands of children worldwide die each day of starvation and/or totally preventable diseases; nearly a third of all children in the U.S. live in poverty. 

On a personal level, the constant conflict leaves me wanting to grab a good book and a flashlight and dive under the bed with my cat. Apparently, I’m not alone. Hidden Tribes (link HERE), a report on public opinion by the organization More in Common, says as many as 67 percent of Americans belong to a group the authors have dubbed “the Exhausted Majority.” Although members of this group have many political and ideological differences, they share fatigue with the current state of U.S. politics and a feeling of being forgotten in political debates. The relentless back-and-forth arguments have rendered many folks just plain fed up and wondering if the U.S. can move beyond division, according to the report.

Matthew 5:13-16 urges Christians to be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.” I suspect this precludes my hiding under the bed with my little yellow cat until the world stops fighting. But I suspect it also means I must aim to avoid being part of the problem. Because the vitriol on all sides is so widespread and so relentless and so damaging, we must look for ways to create more light and less heat. As Christians, I believe we should do no less.

Questions for readers: How has our society’s polarization impacted you personally? Your family and friends? Our larger community? Our churches? Which problems do you see going unaddressed while we rip each other apart? What do you think is behind all the divisiveness and how do we turn down the heat? How do Christians avoid becoming part of the problem? 

I’d love to hear your responses to these questions, as well as your comments on the article itself. Just hit “Leave a Reply” below. When responding, please keep in mind the guidelines I’ve outlined on my Rules of Engagement page (link HERE).

Time to write that book

I’ve known since grade school that my writing skill would play some role in my life’s work, whatever that turned out to be. From young adulthood on, I’ve used this God-given talent in my career as a journalist, as a public relations writer helping various not-for-profit organizations promote their causes, and as a human services executive preparing grant proposals for prospective donors. I’ve even managed to win awards, from first place in an American Legion essay contest when I was in seventh grade to statewide journalism awards from the Associated Press when I worked for a daily newspaper.

But one goal on my bucket list has remained elusive. From age 10 onward, I’ve dreamed of writing a book. More than 50 years later, that goal is … still on my bucket list. So this year, I’ve decided it’s time!

My book — with the working title We Need to Talk — will examine the polarization ripping apart our society and discuss an appropriate Christian response.

Here are some of the issues and questions I want to explore:

  • I suspect the ongoing Culture Wars affect our daily lives more than we realize. How does the steady barrage of name-calling, insults, character assassination and demonization of opponents permeating every area of our lives affect our work, our personal relationships and our mental health? Is the endless bickering simply irritating background noise, or is the impact more malignant?
  • Our current political climate did not just come out of nowhere. Why are people so angry, and what factors are contributing to the rage? Are the Internet and social media to blame? Talk-radio and cable news networks? Changing demographics? Social changes that threaten to disrupt our way of life? The dizzying pace of technological change that overwhelms our ability to keep up? All of the above?
  • Part of my initial motivation for seeking spiritual direction was the internal tug-of-war over my own values brought on by the increasing divisiveness in our society. I’ve begun to suspect I’m part of an “exhausted majority” of folks who feel pressured to take sides in the Culture Wars, but at the same time, don’t fit neatly into either the left-wing progressive or the right-wing conservative camp. What are my own beliefs about the hot-button issues that consume our nation’s culture warriors? How can I avoid the continual pressure to “choose sides” and do more of my own thinking?
  • As ideological positions in our society harden, and people become increasingly “dug in,” common sense seems to have flown out the window. Is healing possible? What aspects of our thinking and behavior would need to change for this to happen? What would happen if we could all take off our political/ideological hats for just a few minutes, eliminate the name-calling, the shouting, the trolling and the flaming, and have a rational discussion about the real issues?
  • Some would say Christians are in no position to judge secular society when it comes to the Culture Wars — we are often accused of stirring the pot ourselves, and not in a good way. What is our role as Christians in fighting or mitigating society’s political battles? How do we engage people who disagree with us, while keeping in mind God’s commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves? And perhaps more importantly, how do we avoid becoming part of the problem as our society grows ever more partisan and angry? How can we be part of the solution?

As I research these issues and explore the questions with my spiritual director in the coming months, I will post book excerpts to this blog. I’d like to invite the blogging community to comment and offer editing or research suggestions. I hope to get responses from all sides — liberals, progressives, conservatives, libertarians, independents, centrists, people who don’t like labels. 

Since 2017, I’ve been posting entries to my blog Seriously Seeking Answers. Among the helpful features Word Press offers is a running word count. My annual site statistics show I’ve written approximately 20,000 words each year since I first created the blog. After three years, that’s almost … a book. This means I’ve proven to myself that writing a book is doable. No excuses!

This is church?

As I said in my previous article (Political correctness, tone policing and censorship! Oh my!), I recently joined an invitation-only Facebook page for church people. And felt like I’d entered the Twilight Zone.

From the “About This Group” description, it was clear the administrator had originally envisioned the group as an outreach and evangelism tool: “This is an approach to social media where everyone in the [denomination deleted] can meet, hang out, and share faith together,” it said by way of introduction. “Welcome to the conversation. Let’s make this a free church. May whatever confusion results be liberating, salutary, and evangelical.”

Though I suppose nothing should shock me in the current political climate, I have to admit I was more than a little taken aback as I encountered the flame wars on this site. 

The screen shots below are a small sampling, but unfortunately there were many, many more equally outrageous posts I could have chosen to include here. They are taken from a “conversation” between several liberal and conservative church folks who apparently have been mauling each other for quite a while now:

Screen grab 3

Of course, not every post contained the F bomb. Some stuck to good old-fashioned ad hominem attacks. Take, for example, this discussion on why some people might be uncomfortable with the “sharing of the peace” ritual that is part of worship services at many churches:

Passing the peace gripes edited

And then there were the na-na-na-na-na playground insults.

Screen grab 1

I have to admit a few snarky remarks came to mind as I posted these. But in the end, this leaves me more sad than anything else. So I decided to let the images speak for themselves.

The church denomination and its Facebook page shall remain mercifully unnamed in this article, and the perpetrators’ names have been blocked as well, because the point here is not to shame a particular group of people. It’s to get those of us who call ourselves Christians to ask ourselves some serious questions.

Yes, I get that Christians come to church precisely because they aren’t perfect. That church is a hospital for sinners and all that.

But there has been a lot of talk in our congregations in recent years about the increasing numbers of young people who identify as “none” when asked their religion. If we were an unchurched young person and came across something like this, would we want to come to church?

 

Political correctness, tone policing and censorship! Oh my!

I recently joined a Facebook group made up of church people – and felt like I’d entered the Twilight Zone. Several conversation threads consisted of little more than name-calling and expletives not deleted. “You are the anti-Christ” and “shut your f–ing mouth” were just two of the lovely sentiments expressed by these self-professed Christians, some of them clergy.

When I responded to one of the nastier threads with the observation that we could all use a bit more civility, I was met with the kind of hostility one might expect if I’d suggested we all start cooking and eating puppies.

As a Christian myself, I wish I were making this up.

Implore people to stop the mean-spirited political rhetoric fracturing our society, and culture warriors of all stripes – even some church people, it seems – will shame us for daring to ask for courtesy:

“This political correctness is getting out of hand,” conservatives complain.

“Enough with the tone policing,” liberals lecture.

“Censorship!” everyone cries.

I understand political correctness, tone policing and censorship exist. But both liberals and conservatives have hopelessly twisted these concepts.

Left-of-center activists first used the term politically correct to satirize their tendency to adopt uniform opinions and causes, thus poking fun at their own rigid insistence on ideological purity. Alas, in recent years, some conservatives have hijacked this term and hurl it indiscriminately at anyone who suggests that common decency and respect for others are still virtues worth cultivating.

I’ve been told I overdosed on political correctness when I forgot to laugh at a patently offensive joke or sought to debunk a stereotype. The accusations go something like this:

Excu-u-u-u-se me if someone thought that joke was offensive. I guess nobody could accuse me of being politically correct.

Well excu-u-u-u-se me, but calling a woman a fat broad isn’t politically incorrect. It’s just plain rude.

We can’t open our mouths anymore without some member of the politically correct thought police yelling, “Racist! Sexist! Homophobic!” People are so oversensitive these days.

Hmmm. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, guess what it is? I’m not saying oversensitive people don’t exist. However, most people I know would prefer that ethnic slurs not become socially acceptable again.

But conservatives aren’t the only folks good at doing The Twist. Liberals do a pretty good dance too.

Wikipedia defines tone policing as an attempt to detract from the validity of a statement by attacking the way it’s presented rather than the message itself. One example is to tell people they’re being “divisive” for merely raising issues such as discrimination in the workplace. But lately, the term gets thrown at us like a hand grenade by some liberals who feel oppressed if we fail to listen while they scream profanities at us.

A Tumblr post circulating among several progressive groups illustrates this trend:

… Hearing ‘I hate men’ shouldn’t make men stop being feminist. Hearing ‘f– white people’ shouldn’t make white people stop opposing racism. Your opposition to oppression should be moral and immovable. Your belief that all humans should be treated with equal respect shouldn’t be conditional based on whether or not individual people are nice to you.

Okay, let’s unpack this statement, a variation of which has been shouted repeatedly at people on the above-mentioned church page. I wholeheartedly agree that we should treat all human beings with equal respect, whether or not every individual in a particular group acts like a nice person. And I’m not going to stop opposing racism because one person says something hateful about white people. But if someone drops the F bomb on me, I will tell them I find this behavior abusive, regardless of their race or mine.

Here’s another example, making the rounds on Facebook:

If you use that “background color” shit, STOP! It blocks EVERYONE who relies on screen readers and/or text-to-speech programs from accessing your posts! These programs, for some reason, CANNOT read the text in those backgrounds and thus your blind/low-vision friends CANNOT find out what you have to say! This is an official “yelling at your friends to not be assholes” post.

Whoa! If someone out there really does lie awake nights thinking up ways to oppress blind people, I seriously don’t want to know them. But I’m pretty sure most people who use the background color feature on Facebook don’t even know this poses a problem, and there are far less abrasive ways to spread the news.

Regarding censorship, some people – conservatives and liberals alike – simply do not tolerate disagreement well, and will consider any overt expression of opposing views to be a violation of their free-speech rights. I’ve heard variations of the following more times than I can count:

It’s my First Amendment right to state my honest opinion of (Dumbocrats, Rethuglicans, fill in the blank). My freedom of speech trumps your hurt feelings.

These people seem to forget the same First Amendment protects our own right to say, “I don’t agree with you” or “I find your language offensive.” While the Constitution does indeed guarantee one’s right to say whatever one wants, it doesn’t force the rest of us to listen. And dissent in and of itself does not constitute censorship.

Note to conservatives: Racism is not “politically incorrect.” It’s immoral. Liberals: Refusing to listen while someone calls us names is not “tone-policing.” It’s setting a healthy boundary. Everyone: Deleting rants full of ad hominem attacks from the comments section after our blog posts is not censorship. It’s exercising our right to set standards for our own publications.

To anyone who thinks their passionate beliefs entitle them to spew hostility, here’s the deal: If you want me to listen to you, please remove your middle finger from under my nose. Then state your concern minus the name-calling and profanity. My attention span will improve dramatically.

Especially if I’m on a church site.

 

Clarification

After my previous two articles, I’d like to clarify: I’m not saying we should retreat from the political arena, refrain from sharing opinions on issues we feel strongly about, passively accept mistreatment, look the other way in the face of injustice, forsake our favorite causes or stop working to resolve social problems.

Some would argue that even talking about politics or hot-button social issues is poor etiquette. That getting involved in causes is the province of people afraid to look too closely at their personal issues. That marches, rallies and boycotts are inherently divisive. That civil discussion is a waste of time since most of us already have our minds made up. That special interests control our government to the point where voting is futile, so why bother?

I would respectfully disagree with all of this. Participating in the political process is not only a right, but one of our responsibilities as citizens. Supporting a good cause beats sitting in front of our screens playing one video game after another. Too many problems need addressing for us to move in the direction of self-absorbed apathy and disconnection. We do need to stay engaged.

But could we please, please stop the vitriol? If we really want to change hearts and minds, we must stop the name-calling, the scapegoating and the demonizing.

The Constitution guarantees our right to petition our government for the redress of grievances, whether that involves writing letters to our representatives, attending town hall events or visiting lawmakers in their offices. But I suspect our elected officials – being human – will pay more attention to a politely-worded letter and listen more carefully to constituents who refrain from shouting them down while they’re trying to speak.

Marches and rallies are a time-honored way to call public attention to an injustice. But can we do this without violence and destruction of property? I think we can agree there is a huge difference between rioting or looting on the one hand, and a peaceful protest in which organizers have obtained all the proper permits.

If a company treats customers badly or engages in business practices we believe to be immoral, a boycott allows us to vote with our feet and our pocketbooks. But it wouldn’t hurt if we let the offending company know the reason for the boycott in a letter, email or tweet that has been edited to delete profanities.

I enjoy watching TV programs in which people discuss the issues of the day. But could our political pundits learn to speak one at a time and stop interrupting each other constantly? Recently I’ve taken to switching the channel as soon as commentators start talking over each other.

I have nothing against people wearing t-shirts and sporting bumper stickers in support of their favorite cause or candidate. But I’m with Her and Make America Great Again are one thing. Cheeto is a vulgar pig and Trump that Bitch are another.

Name-calling and other rude behavior stop genuine discussion and problem solving in their tracks. Lashing out only gives others an excuse to ignore our concerns, discount us and dismiss our issues. For those of us who claim to be people of faith, spewing snarky insults gives people ammunition to call us hypocrites and declare they want nothing to do with either us or our religion.

Being civil, on the other hand, carries strategic advantages. After all, we want people to take us seriously, right?

In my own case, I actually have changed my mind now and then over the years, even on some fairly big issues. When I did so, it was because someone presented factual information in such a way that I could listen without becoming defensive. It also helped if the other person was willing to hear my side of the story, shared their personal experience of the issue in question, or showed me how I could come around to their way of thinking without sacrificing values important to me.

But I can promise I have never, EVER changed my mind because someone called me names, insulted me or tried to convince me I was a terrible person. All yelling and character assassination ever did for me was encourage me to dig in my heels or walk away. People of all political stripes have let me know I’m not alone in this regard.

In our current environment, we are so often presented with only two alternatives – be “in-your-face” reactionary or be apathetic. I’d like to see a third option. I’d like to see all of us eliminate the name-calling, the trolling and the flaming, and have a rational discussion about serious issues.

We need to replace our desire to be right with a desire to solve problems. That way, instead of Our Side winning, perhaps we can all win.

Time for a look in the mirror?

I know some will accuse me of false equivalence, but I’m going to say this anyway: People of all political and ideological persuasions have been guilty of contributing to the divisiveness tearing apart our social fabric.

During the 2016 election, I noticed most candidates for public office spent more time telling us why we should not vote for their opponents than they did telling us what they planned to do themselves if elected. This was true whether the candidate was a liberal, socialist, progressive, moderate, centrist, conservative or libertarian.

Neither Democrats nor Republicans have a monopoly on hypocrisy. Republicans who spent eight years obstructing and filibustering former President Barack Obama at every turn now lecture Democrats to “give Trump a chance.” Meanwhile, the same Democrats who decried obstructionism now focus on how to give the Republicans a dose of their own medicine. Democrats pounced on candidate Donald Trump’s “woman problem” while conveniently forgetting or just plain denying that former President Bill Clinton was accused of similar misdeeds. Trump supporters complained that Obama issued too many executive orders, but now cheer when Trump does likewise.

Liberals who wish to vent about the election results – or find memes with which to shoot down conservatives – can join Facebook groups such as Americans Against the Republican Party, The Angry Liberal, Amending the Constitution so Corporations Can’t Buy Elections, or Teanderthal Party, which declares “Trump’s a jackass” and pledges, “I will defend my country from all enemies, both foreign and Republican.” Conservatives mad at liberals for being mad about the election can join Laughing at Stupid Things Liberals Say, Liberal Logic 101, or Occupy Dimwits, which proclaims, “Dimwits support the Occupy movement, Obama, Hillary, socialism, Marxism and communism.”

Both sides of the political spectrum are guilty of promoting fake news, overt propaganda and “news” of questionable accuracy: Daily Headlines, American News, IHaveTheTruth.com and Conservative Tribune on the Right; Occupy Democrats, Bipartisan Report, Real Time Politics and Freakout Nation on the Left. People on both sides can live entirely in their own bubble, if desired. Left-leaning folks have MSNBC, DailyKos, The Nation, Jezebel, AlterNet, Slate and Mother Jones. Those on the Right have FOX News, American Spectator, CNS News, The Federalist, The National Review and the Drudge Report. While none of these latter media qualify as “fake news,” it would be fair to say they are decidedly biased.

The comments sections that follow online news articles and blogs overflow with trash-talk of both political stripes: I’m going to say this real slowly so you un-ed-i-cated rednecks can understand it. … Keep it up and maybe you can turn being a flag-hating pansy into an Olympic sport. … I can see why you vote Dumbocrat – it’s easier than working. … Is that true or did you hear it on FAUX News? … I can’t even understand what you’re trying to say, it’s so stupid.

Finger-pointing and blaming others has proven to be an equal-opportunity pastime. Ask conservatives who or what is responsible for the problems in our society, and they’ll blame labor unions, illegal immigrants who suck our social system dry when they’re not stealing jobs from hard-working Americans, Muslims out to bring sharia law to our shores, and mothers who work outside the home while others raise their children. Ask liberals the same question, and they’ll point to corporations that bust unions, xenophobes who deny entry to this country for refugees with well-founded fears of death or persecution in their own countries, Christian extremists who would impose their own version of sharia law on America, and men who want to keep women in the kitchen barefoot and pregnant.

People on both sides seem to subscribe to the notion that if we can’t beat our opponents in an argument, we can always fall back on name-calling. Conservatives talk of Obozo, $hillary, elitist granola-munching Libtards, Welfare Queens, tree-hugging environmental wackos, woefully deluded do-gooders and snowflakes. Liberals talk of the Bloviater in Chief, Rethuglicans, racist-sexist-homophobic bigots, right-wing fanatics, extremist ideologues, the lunatic fringe, tea-baggers and alt-right fascists. Both sides fling words like idiot, moron, nut job and Nazi with abandon.  

Liberals and conservatives compete for the most in-your-face bumper stickers, t-shirts, ball caps and coffee cups. At the online Breitbart Store, conservatives can order their very own Border Wall t-shirt, Protected by 2nd Amendment doormat, RINO Hunter jumbo coffee cup or Safe Spaces Are for Snowflakes bumper sticker. Not to be outdone, the online Northern Sun store offers liberals a White House Alternative Facts t-shirt, He’s Not My President button, Putin-Trump Make Russia Great Again bumper sticker, or a refrigerator magnet which announces, “Mommy when I grow up I want to help smash the white racist, homophobic, patriarchal, bullshit paradigm too.”

Demonizing of opponents knows no ideological boundaries. People who favor gun rights accuse gun control advocates of wanting to render law-abiding citizens defenseless in the face of rampant crime. Gun control advocates portray people who favor gun rights as heartless monsters who don’t care about tragedies such as Sandy Hook. Christians portray secular humanists as hedonists out to strip society of its core values, while secular humanists accuse religions (including Christianity) of being responsible for most wars. Some Web sites seriously speculate whether Trump, Obama or even Pope Francis might be the Antichrist referred to in the Biblical Book of Revelation.

Perhaps Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich best summed up the free-floating animosity when she observed: “Everyone needs someone to loathe. … I mean some group, some class, some club, some clique, some collection of humans who can be disdained and despised simply because they wear the wrong ID badge. … We all gnaw on prejudices against groups that threaten who we’d like to be or think we are. Sometimes our prejudices explode into cruelty, even if words are the only weapons in our attack.”

Of course, if I’m completely honest with myself, I must acknowledge my own contribution to the divisiveness. No, I haven’t broken windows or set buildings on fire at a demonstration, and I don’t make a habit of spewing profanities at people. But I’ll plead guilty to passing along Facebook memes that subtly – or not so subtly – make fun of people whose opinions differ from mine. I’ll cop to sometimes feeling smarter than, and even a bit morally superior to, those poor misguided people who disagree with me on various issues. I’ve promised more than once to stop posting political memes on Facebook, only to renege a short time later. I’ve finally settled on a promise to post at least one cute animal video for each political post. Good thing there are A LOT of cute animal videos in cyberspace.

During election season, my husband and I rationalized that our candidates had to “go negative” during their campaigns because their opponents did. Thus justified, I cheered when “my” candidate got in a good zinger during a debate or attack ad. I was quick to pounce when a candidate on The Other Side said or did something “wrong,” and equally quick to make excuses when my own candidate behaved the same way.

As a Christian, I’ve even been guilty of getting snarky about other Christians. When a fellow believer expresses an opposing view, I’ve said, “Do they read the Bible they’re thumping on?” One day in Sunday School class, someone asked the group, “Do you think [well-known person] is really a Christian?” I replied with the proverbial wink-and-nudge, “By their fruits we shall know them,” and was gratified when several people laughed. I should probably deposit a $20 fine in Rachel Held Evans’ Jar of Contention for that last one.

I don’t believe it’s “false equivalence” to suggest that each of us look for our part in a problem. Admittedly this is much less fun than wallowing in the mud hole we all seem to be submerged in at the moment. On the other hand, no positive change is going to happen and no real problems are going to be addressed effectively until we all can do this.