I Plead Guilty to Surrounding Myself with Like-Minded People
Over the years I’ve quite intentionally sought out friendships with a diverse group of people.1 Clearly it hasn’t been a perfect attempt but I have made a concerted effort to not be surrounded by Yes Men. That is, those who do little but pat themselves on the back–mutually reinforcing everything they already think, believe, and assume while singing their own praises.1.For example, on facebook the spectrum of people I regularly interact with ranges from progressives to libertarians, capitalists to socialists, Catholics to Anabaptists, visionaries to pragmatists, thinkers to feelers, nerds to jocks, businessmen to artists, patriots to pacifists, Israelis to Palestinians, atheists to devout believers, Southerners to Northeasterners, apathetic to passionate, black to white, etc. Few things are deadlier to an intellectual life. That much I’ve been espousing for some time.
What’s new is that in the last six months I’ve slowly become honest with myself about those with whom I’m surrounded. I confess that I have almost no grace toward, or desire to regularly interact with, those who are seemingly incapable of genuine thoughtfulness moored in civility, preferring instead oversimplication driven by zeal (or piety). Such persons are the bane of my existence. In that sense, I confess that I do surround myself with only like-minded persons.22.Of course, to the best of my knowledge I’m yet to meet anyone who doesn’t. Furthermore, I confess that I do think thoughtfulness with civility is a better, more Christ-like way of living.
There’s bound to be at least one person who’ll read this and think I’m overstating the case for civility. I can imagine that some of you are formulating thoughts like, “Look at Jesus in the temple courts. He doesn’t appear particularly ‘civil’ to me. Isn’t there a time for righteous anger?” Sure. Key words: “a time.” Ecclesiastes makes clear that there’s a time for just about everything.33.I’m not advocating a uniform, NPR-inspired lifestyle of monotone contemplation. What I’m addressing is people’s typical demeanor when they encounter conflicting views. In other words, is the default civility or contentiousness?
I’m just so darn weary of the fundamentalists on either ideological extreme. You know the sort I’m talking about. They’re the ones who are incapable of civility amidst disagreement, identifying and challenging their presuppositions to whatever degree their abilities and life circumstances allow, or getting beyond a binary worldview in which everything neatly breaks down into two, easy-to-use categories.44.For the first time, I’m admitting to myself that I have about as much inclination to spend time with those people as I do spending time with hooded racists. Biblically, the world just ain’t that simple.
In conclusion, I suppose the social preference I’m speaking to is largely reflective of these four quotes:
Your humility is revealed in how you treat those you disagree with. – Rick Warren
A lot of people today who have strong convictions are not very civil and a lot of people who are civil don’t have very strong convictions. What we really need is convicted civility. – Richard Mouw
Too often in life we proceed with a hermeneutic of self-assuredness and criticism of those for whom we disagree rather than a hermeneutic of self-criticism and grace for others. – Richard Mouw
One of the best contributions which Christian thought can make to the thought of the world is the repetition that life is complex. It is part of the Christian understanding of reality that all simplistic answers to basic questions are bound to be false. Over and over, the answer is both-and rather than either-or. – Elton Trueblood