Between Clybourne Park, my Credo Paper for Systematic Theology III and the recent news craze related to Paula Deen, I feel like I am inundated with a barrage of thoughts about diversity, tolerance and communication. Tolerance has become the politically correct social ethic — with permissiveness towards diversity being the way to play our social, political, and workplace games.
And yet our approach towards the intolerant (as demonstrated by much of the twittering and message boards related to the Paula Deen incident) does little but to reflect back to the intolerant one that same message. We treat others with the same hate that they reflect. How then do we expect people to behave differently? To grow? To learn? We cement their opinions when we behave this way; we may prevent outward displays going forward, but we do not change hearts and minds. And the heart and the mind are of bigger concern to me, because they shape the whole of our behavior.
We are preventing authentic conversation; not asking reflective questions like “why.” Nor do we seem to be promoting authentic engagement of the other; really all we are saying is that you must not use certain language (but who really cares about your internal thought life). The mirroring of the hate language does not help us move toward growth or authentic relationship; rather, it perpetuates us in a cycle of unhelpful communication.
By saying all this, I’m not saying that intolerant communication is okay or even speaking in support of Paula Deen, I’m just saying there has to a better way to have these conversations. How do we speak of things that we ought not tolerate in such a way that still sets a boundary, but also leaves room for growth and paves the way for better understanding. I understand the thirst for justice, but I think we tend to want vengeance more than justice in society. Let’s have an internet lynch mob rather than a conversation where we strive to truly hear each other and to understand the contexts from which we all come from. We are not blank slates; each of us is a product of our culture, our family systems, our sociological constructs of race and gender. And all of these shape us (and damage us) into the people that we are. Unless we can really examine our own contexts and have some measure of grace upon another’s context and experience, how do we begin to communicate, to relate, to authentically welcome another? Or are we just expecting the other to be identical to us? Or to be different in a way that doesn’t require us to acknowledge or engage?
And maybe, maybe I ask too much. But, really, there has got to be a better way!