Not long ago, I found that I had been invited up to Montpelier to share the morning devotional moment with our state legislators. (Did you know that they start each day with a reflective moment? It’s called a “devotional,” though I’m not sure that language actually describes the breadth of what is presented over the course of a session.) When my husband Tristan let me know I would be doing the devotional in early February, I was in the midst of an online discussion with someone on the internet who was so very clearly wrong. Have you ever experienced such a thing? In my household, we often refer often to a cartoon meme that you may have seen … it depicts a couple, in which one calls to the other from outside the frame, “Aren’t you coming to bed?” and the stick-figure guy who’s visible in the frame yells back from his seat in front of his computer monitor, “I can’t. Someone is wrong on the internet.”
Yeah. That’s me, I’m afraid. I don’t believe in nastiness in debates, but I am a person of strong opinions. I try to always respect others and treat them with clarity and compassion, but I can’t deny that I want very much for them to change their mind. I find it difficult to step away from a social media interaction in which someone – often enough a friend of a friend, and therefore someone I’ll never meet – says something repugnant to me, especially if they do so in the name of something I hold dear. I have opinions on many of the subjects that legislators will be discussing this session ~ vaccinations and background checks and schools and workers’ rights and so many more and those strong opinions sometimes lead me into rather fraught conversations in which my intent to remain civilized is sorely challenged.
Our community faces some difficult moments at the upcoming Town Meeting, and our passionate (but probably varied) opinions about town decisions including but not limited to the fate of the Westminster West School are part of what can make it so difficult to live comfortably in community with people who hold other opinions. It seems appropriate that I share with you here the poem I shared with our legislators that day:
One Hundred and Eighty Degrees
(by Federico Moramarco
Source: “Is Democratic Debate Any Longer Possible?” posted on OpEdNews.com)
Have you considered the possibility
that everything you believe is wrong,
not merely off a bit, but totally wrong,
nothing like things as they really are?
If you’ve done this, you know how durably fragile
those phantoms we hold in our heads are,
those wisps of thought that people die and kill for,
betray lovers for, give up lifelong friendships for.
If you’ve not done this, you probably don’t understand this poem,
or think it’s not even a poem, but a bit of opaque nonsense,
occupying too much of your day’s time,
so you probably should stop reading it here, now.
But if you’ve arrived at this line,
maybe, just maybe, you’re open to that possibility,
the possibility of being absolutely completely wrong,
about everything that matters.
How different the world seems then:
everyone who was your enemy is your friend,
everything you hated, you now love,
and everything you love slips through your fingers like sand.
It’s a hard thing to do. I know this. I have tried and failed over and over again. But even when I fail, practicing what the poem preaches reminds me of the humanity of those whose opinions differ from mine. I hope the bravest among our community might give it a try at town meeting and beyond.
Community matters, and whether we agree or disagree, we have to be able to recognize the value and the humanity of those we encounter.
May we know peace even in the midst of difficult conversations.