I really miss authentic debate. And no, I’m not being wistfully nostalgic for my high school debate team (never joined, don’t even remember if we even had one). But the more I write and the more I get published (and I admit, the more I tackle controversial topics) the more comments I get from readers. This is good. I welcome feedback. But I get really annoyed at people’s lack of debating skills. If you caught my article about the Pope meeting with Kim Davis, I had a guy tell me essentially that I sounded bitter and that I needed to remember that gay people have souls too.
There are several problems with his critique, the first being that I haven’t forgotten that the members of the LGBT community have souls. The second being that the only mention that the LGBT community gets in that particular article is that the Pope loves them the same way he loves everyone else. That is not an issue with me, and I strive to do the same. Loving people by degrees requires judgment, which I try to avoid like the plague because it’s that deadly for my soul (in that my personality is easily susceptible to it if I don’t remain vigilant.)
Anyway, it’s not the fact that the guy completely misunderstood my article to the point where I wonder if he actually read it that gets to me. I don’t even mind being insulted (between my religion and the way I choose to live my life I’m used to being insulted to my face all the time). It’s the larger issue that bothers me, the observation that people can’t debate to save their lives anymore. Perhaps that’s a bit of an overgeneralization, but it certainly feels that way to me. If people disagree with me it usually goes something like this:
- read about 2 sentences of actual article
- make assumptions about me as a writer/person in general
- (optional) begin to read rest of article with self-righteous indignation
- decide that they are superior to me in one or more ways
- insult the article/me in some condescending way
- feel smugly superior at “teaching me a lesson”/be proud of their attempt to enlighten me to their superiority and the shared superiority of those who also think like them.
This argumentative arrogance strikes me as particularly foolish because their actions demonstrate a low opinion of me that in turn makes them feel justified in not caring about me at all. What would possibly compel me to join a bunch that thinks and lives like that? Elitism is more than a superiority complex, it’s subtle hatred with public approval. You can’t judge someone without loving yourself a little more and the other person a little less. It makes me miss authentic debate that was based in reason and mutual respect, a desire to reveal to the other the truth that defines your life and your choices as an act of love (because real truth brings happiness and fulfilment, which is something at least I want for the people I love). It makes me miss being able to have a rational discussion about where differences of opinion occur, as opposed to the irrelevant emotionalism I described above.
And to respond to that particular stranger- no, it doesn’t make me bitter, this rise in elitism and this process of ineffectual “debating” that I see repeated over and over again. It simply makes me sad, because I respect God’s design of free will, where His love is constantly offered, but not forced on any person. It causes me suffering to see a soul not living in that love, because the alternative is usually some varying degree of a worldly attachment (such as pride) that will never truly satisfy no matter how much you chase it.
Because while the world may be an enticing place, there is so much more to the heavens.
So today I was faced with an interesting choice. Now that I’m much better at navigating Pittsburgh via public transit I know that from the stop near my office there are two bus routes that take about the same time to get back into the city. The first goes through a fairly poor rundown area before hitting the downtown. The second goes through the prestigious University of Pittsburgh. And the campus is impressively beautiful.
Guess which place my preppy white girl outward appearance fits in better?
I know the anticipation is killing you, but it was the second one. And that makes me kind of sad. Because while I’ve taken both ways, the first time I took the first way I was taken aback. Because suddenly I was launched into a world that was primarily African American and included many people with disabilities, the elderly, and had a strong presence of single mothers. One in particular who had a broken foot and was carting around her work bags and her kid on this broken foot of hers still haunts me. Because that would be damn hard. I don’t even know if I could do it. And while I hate the notion that just because I grew up with a nice, middle-class family I don’t know what suffering is (I know well enough, believe me), it would be hard to bear that particular cross. And I’m grateful that I had a really supportive family to go through it with me, because that lady was all alone with her child.
But fortunately since this is Pittsburgh, there is something sort of genuine about the people here, what you see is what you get. There’s this like prevailing blue-collar honesty, a sweet simplicity that’s hard to describe. Just know that it is the opposite of superficiality. And the people had a little community. A lot of them knew each other. And what could have been a really depressing scene (one that my more elitist but sometimes well-meaning professors and teachers would teach me to automatically pity if not outright condescend) was turned into something almost sweet. Because there’s nothing like being cared about, knowing that people have your back through thick and thin, not because of what you do for them, but because you are friends and neighbors. That is the power of Pittsburgh. And I’m sad that, being raised up and down the east coast, that I haven’t experienced anything like it in other places.
Because other places have turned their back on it as something outdated in this dog-eat-dog world where you are number one and everyone else is number two (extend the number two metaphor as far as you want). And that’s too bad. Because now there is an absence of this type of community, an absence that the world is in mourning for, whether they admit it or not.
Because the truth is the best things in life aren’t things. What makes the experience worthwhile isn’t “finding yourself” or accumulating lots of material goods or even being the best. It’s serving your neighbor. And in a community like the ones I’ve described in Pittsburgh, you get the joy not only of serving your neighbor but in having your neighbor serve you too. I’m glad they keep that tradition alive. And I’d love to see it come back to life around the world.
There’s a Catholic pun around here waiting to happen with this next phrase, but I am just sick of indulgence. (The pun would be based on the idea that church indulgences and the self-indulgence that I’m about to rant about are two very different things. But again, I can’t quite find one that satisfies, so we’re gonna move on.)
So, to get to the rant I promised it began with my fairly innocent act of eating a piece of Dove chocolate that I packed in my lunchbox (because I am a child and still think it’s fun to get candy with lunch- sometimes I even eat it first just because now I can) And the stupid message they put inside was “buy something frivolous.”
I get that Dove markets mainly to women who want to eat chocolate. That’s certainly how I came across its path, being a woman who frequently eats chocolate (judge if you must). But when did Dove get the permission to become my chauvinistic husband? Telling me that it’s okay if I need to take a break from my pathetic life with a little piece of chocolate and that one indulgence somehow justifies another. (I get the path they’re going down, if you get to that place where you’re like five pieces in you do reach that point where you sort of give up on being healthy for the day) But why is the advice they offer in this dumb chocolate all the same? Has authentic femininity taken such a beating (if you’ll pardon my choice of metaphor) that a woman’s only hope for happiness is some shallow materialism? That our goal should be not to serve those who we love but instead order our lives around indulging our every girlish whim? Did Dove really just tell me to ignore my authentic needs and feelings and buy myself something pretty?
Because if so then Dove doesn’t know me very well. For better or worse, I can’t ignore things that matter. I’ve tried in the past, but the longings of my heart prove too strong every time.