We Just Disagree

By | July 01, 2014

I am a straight white male with a pretty good job that pays a pretty good salary. I’m also a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (a Mormon) with relatively conservative views. (I am not “a conservative,” because I don’t believe in identifying myself by my political views.) Current conventional wisdom tells you that, all of that being true, I hate minorities and women and poor people and gay people and liberals and probably a few other groups I’m forgetting. I’m not going to sit here and complain about how hard it is to be a white guy with a good job, because I think that’s unfair to people who have serious problems in their lives. But I would like to take a minute to explain a few things. I suppose it’s possible that I am unique, that every other middle-class white conservative LDS man hates all those groups and I am the only one who doesn’t, but I don’t think that’s likely. I think it’s more likely that the vast majority of people on every point of every spectrum (political, religious, socio-economic, etc.) find it much easier to paint large groups of people with a broad brush than to really try to understand them.

Here’s the thing: I don’t hate any group of people. I don’t believe in discriminating against any group of people. I hate that this has become a cliche that people use to defend themselves after saying something racist, but my best friend really is black. And my wife, my real best friend, is female. Last summer, I took a trip to the Bay Area with my black best friend to watch some baseball games, and while we were there, we met up with two of my old friends from high school, both of whom are pretty liberal politically, and one of whom is half of a happily married lesbian couple. Let’s see, minorities, women, LGBT, liberals … oh yeah, and after lunch, as we walked to the baseball stadium, I gave a pretty decent amount of money to a homeless guy on the street. So while the stereotypes tell you all the groups I hate, a one-hour sample of my actions tell a different story.

I don’t think I’m unique. I think there are a lot of people like me, people who are unfairly assumed to be hateful and intolerant but are actually good, kind, generous, loving, and tolerant people. I obviously don’t pretend to be perfect, and I even understand where the unfair characterizations come from, but I don’t really enjoy being expected to feel guilty for who I am.

I am not proud that I am white or male or LDS or conservative or straight, but I’m certainly not ashamed of any of those things. I don’t think any of those things define me as a person — they are simply attributes, things about me. I have brown hair, I love the Dodgers, I have a scar on my left knee. I’m not proud or ashamed of any of those things, either.

I think way too many of us, on both sides of every issue, jump far too quickly to the conclusion that the opposition is a bunch of hypocrites. I really enjoy reading Matt Walsh, the current go-to conservative blogger. I think he makes a lot of great points a lot of the time. But I also think he often comes across in his writing as an obnoxious jerk. Yesterday, he wrote about the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case. I thought he did a great job pointing out some of the inaccuracies that were being reported — most notably, he pointed out that Hobby Lobby is not against paying for birth control for its employees, just a few certain types of birth control that its owners believe constitute abortion. He also did a good job articulating the difference between “we refuse to pay for this” and “we do not allow our employees to use this.” But in the same post, he falls back on his standard schtick of demonizing liberals, referring to their arguments as stupid, audacious, and lies. He calls them hypocrites with statements like, “But they aren’t looking for solutions. They’re simply looking to push their social agenda.”

I don’t know if Matt Walsh has any liberal friends or not. It may be that his political ideology prevents that. But I think his extremism reflects poorly on me, and I wish that for once, we could have someone who makes the good points without resorting to demonizing the “enemy.”

I have friends who are more conservative than I am, and I have friends who are more liberal than I am. It is very rare that I give any thought to their political views in the course of my everyday interaction with them. So when I read people like Matt Walsh telling me that all liberals are liars and hypocrites, it bothers me, because untruth is untruth, no matter how much the speaker believes it.

I absolutely believe that there are hypocrites in the world. I wouldn’t be surprised if a large number of career politicians are more interested in doing what keeps them in office than in doing what is right. I am open to the possibility that large industries employ lobbyists and make huge political donations to maintain their influence regardless of what is best for our country. But individual people, at least the ones I know, are good.

I have a dear friend who is one of the forefront voices in the Mormon feminism movement. She and I don’t agree on a lot of things “politically” (I don’t know if that’s the exact word I am looking for, but it gets the point across). But we have a mutual respect. She doesn’t make assumptions about why I feel the way I do, and I don’t make assumptions about her. We both recognize that intelligent people can disagree and both have valid points.

But at the same time, I often find myself fighting the urge to judge Kate Kelly, the recently excommunicated LDS woman who founded Ordain Women, the group that advocates for women receiving the priesthood in the Church. The difference? I don’t know her personally. If I did, I’d probably be much quicker to recognize her as a good person who has opinions I disagree with.

With every issue that “conservatives” and “liberals” disagree about (I use quotes because, again, I think people are much more complex than a word about their political views), the two sides can either look at each other as hypocrites, or they can look at it more honestly. A few examples:

  • Abortion. “Pro-Life” vs. “Pro-Choice.” A great example of the ingrained disingenuousness of the argument. The names each side chose are designed to mislead. “The opposite of Pro-Life is Anti-Life, why do you hate life?” “Well, why do you hate choice?” Do Pro-Choice people hate life? Of course not. Do Pro-Life people hate choice? Silly question. The issue can be boiled down to this: one group believes that life begins at conception and abortion is therefore murder; the other side believes that a baby isn’t a life until it is born, and until that point, it should not take precedent over the agency of the mother. We may never convince each other, but the only chance we have is to discuss the actual issues. Instead, the rhetoric generally involves “immoral, evil baby-killers” and “hey men, stop trying to control my body!”
  • Gay Marriage. Anyone who is against gay marriage is depicted as a bigot, as backwards, as hateful and “homophobic.” What I wish people would realize is that my view of gay marriage has zero to do with my feelings about homosexuals and everything to do with my feelings about marriage. I believe that God created the institution of marriage here on earth when He married Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. I believe that marriage is His, and He should be allowed to make whatever rules He wants for it. I own a house, and I am allowed to make a rule that you can’t walk in my house in muddy shoes. I am also allowed to make a rule that you can’t walk in my house in yellow shoes. The principle is the same: my house, my rules. I personally believe that marriage is God’s the same way that my house is mine. I also believe that God reveals His will through His living prophets, so when they say that gay marriage is against God’s will, I stand with them. I also see the other side. I understand that while I may view it as analogous to my rule about no muddy shoes in the house, others may see it as no less arbitrary than the yellow shoes rule. I understand that for them, it is an issue of equality and rights. That is the crux of our disagreement, and I wish that got talked about more. But instead, we spend all our time calling each other bigots and immoral and hateful.
  • Economy/Welfare/Minimum Wage/Money/etc. Let’s face it: either you are a rich elitist who hates poor people, or you are a lazy bum who wants the government to take care of you. If we could get past that false dichotomy, we might be able to have a productive discussion about the best ways to actually help people who need help, about whether minimum wage laws actually improve the lives of the people they are designed to, etc. I don’t hate poor people. It breaks my heart that anyone, especially a child, lives in poverty. I just don’t happen to believe that raising the minimum wage will address that issue — in fact, I think it would hurt the people it means to help, because prices go up and/or the number of jobs goes down. Both of those issues affect the poor much more than anyone else.
  • Gun Control. Such a hot-button issue. Either you are a redneck with no concern for the safety of your fellow citizens — especially children, why do you want children to die??? — or you hate the constitution and everything it stands for. I have never met a person who doesn’t think the Newtown school shooting was awful and wish it hadn’t happened. Such a person might exist, but maybe not. To hear people talk, though, nearly everyone is more concerned with other things than the safety of the children. One side thinks teachers need to be armed to protect the kids; the other side thinks stronger gun control is the answer. I can’t help thinking that if we would acknowledge that we all have the same sincere feeling in our hearts — safety — then we might be able to have legitimate conversations. Instead, we demonize each other and guarantee that nothing productive will ever happen.

So here is my opinion, the TL;DR version: if we can stop assuming everyone who disagrees with us is a hypocrite and a liar, we might be able to have productive discussions. At the very least, we can treat each other as human beings with different opinions rather than as monsters.

5 thoughts on “We Just Disagree

  1. Briana Johnson

    thank you so much for sharing your views! these were some powerful words:) i feel like you were able to get at the heart of so many of our pressing issues and break them down to common threads. very well done friend.

  2. John

    Fifth paragraph, first sentence: “jump far to quickly.” Just pointing it out, because I know you would want to fix it.

  3. Allan

    But the reality is that there are people who intentionally lie. There are people working hard to deceive and mislead others as well as working to destroy the lives of those who disagree with them. It is prudent to start from an assumption of sincerity and good intentions. Psychologists call this “positive regard.” In the face of indisputable evidence of bad intent and bad acts, it is not only foolhardy, but immoral to continue to assign positive intentions.

    It is one thing to call for respect and civility. It is one thing to suggest that positions can be nuanced. But it is quite another to suggest that there is some moral equivalence or that the differences are not profoundly meaningful and consequential.

  4. Jeff J. Snider Post author

    I have no issue with calling out hypocrisy when it is witnessed, Allan. My issue is with the common practice of assuming that anyone who disagrees with you is either a liar, a hypocrite, or an idiot.

    I don’t totally understand what you mean with your last sentence, though.

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