Are any of us, really, the simplified caricature that those with opposing views make us out to be? Is any human being, who is truly so complex and varied, and with a wealth of experience, just a mindless cartoon character—as we all are portrayed to be, by people with a different opinion?
I really doubt it. In fact, if we look inside ourselves we likely will find that we have thoughts that we may be surprised by, and our opinions are nuanced to a high degree. Few of us are so monolithic in our views that we fit squarely into the opposition party as it is defined—no matter how much our media culture wants to simplify all of us. Fact is, we aren’t simply two camps, but rather, we are a people with a vast spectrum of ideas and opinions that can’t honestly be divided only into this, and that.
However, though this may be true, all of us are in danger of allowing ourselves to become shallow caricatures, if we aren’t attentive to our thoughts, and if we aren’t cautious to resist allowing our thoughts to be molded and shaped entirely by others. We must not let ourselves be defined by our culture and specifically our media; in other words, we shouldn’t simply believe what they say about us. And as a corollary to this, we certainly shouldn’t believe what they say about them.
In other words, don’t accept that your supposed-opposition is really the cartoon character you’d like to believe that they are. Because most likely they are just as sophisticated in their thinking as you are, they may be just as informed as you are—or possibly even more informed than you—but they draw different conclusions from the information than you do. Does that really make them idiots? Are you an idiot?
I really doubt it. But we have to live with each other and this is a complicated task—to live with each other’s varied desires, goals, expectations, hopes etc. We may frustrate one another, we may not understand how each other arrives at the different conclusions that we do, based on the same information. But I propose that it is best to maintain a generosity of heart—keeping our hearts open—to one another in the midst of disagreements. One way to do this, is to resist allowing ourselves to be deceived into thinking that others are simple.
Though it is convenient, and may make us feel more secure, to simplify the opposition, by turning one another into straw men, it avoids the truth. And if we avoid the truth of one another, we miss the opportunity for real community and we are all diminished by this. Ours is not a safe world, and we cannot make it safer for ourselves by pretending that it is simple, or that other people are simple and therefore stupid. We live in a dangerous world, with dangerous ideas and a treacherous complexity that none of us fully understand. Better to face this difficult truth honestly, and grapple with the complexity of this life together, than to create false simplicities that merely lull us into a self-satisfied stupor.