On May 31, Dr. George Tiller was killed at point-blank range in his church for his beliefs and practices regarding reproductive rights for women.
Apparently, self-righteousness is killing again.
The news and comments about it were abundant on the Internet — Facebook included. I updated my status last Monday, saying “I’m appalled we can’t respectfully disagree instead of gunning people down in church.” When I returned to Facebook that evening, I discovered there had been a diverse and respectful conversation on my “wall” throughout the day. The conversation was between people I know, but who do not know each other, and included representation from both males and females as well as devout Catholic, progressive Christian, clergy and community leadership.
Apparently, we can respectfully and thoughtfully disagree. Well, most of us can. A minority stay so mired in self-righteousness that they are not only blind and deaf to opinions other than their very own, but feel the need to kill those with different beliefs.
I was privileged to have hosted that public conversation on my Facebook wall. Earlier this spring, I was privileged in another way. Having worked with this year’s Advancing Leadership Youth (ALY) class, I was present when they facilitated their team project, doing community service in our city. The project, at first glance, may have seemed “simple.” In reality, the work they did was deep and is already creating a lasting impact.
The ALY class hosted Conversation Cafes at Decatur High School and Todd Beamer High School. Teachers signed up to have their classes participate. When students arrived, they were randomly assigned to a table with a trained facilitator from the Advancing Leadership Youth class. Most were not seated with their friends.
One of the most consistent and recurring pieces of feedback the class received about this project from participants was about stereotypes. They expressed their surprise and pleasure that they had the opportunity to learn about others they did not normally interact with — about the breaking down of stereotypes that are so prevalent in high school. There is now a large, silent, growing crack in pre-judgment in the student body of these two high schools. The youth who created this experience may never know the depth of their impact, but you can be sure it is there.
What topics were discussed to provide such a life-altering experience in a little over an hour? Well, there were things like music, school spirit, the economy, college, gas prices and, oh yes, abortion.
We adults can take a page from our youngsters by creating venues for thoughtful conversations about controversial topics like reproductive rights, sexual orientation and sexuality education. The value is not necessarily in agreeing, but in conversing. Yes, Federal Way, we can respectfully disagree — it just takes time, creating space and a willingness to listen. Beats the heck out of another shooting in another house of worship.