Back in late July, I decided that I would no longer make political posts via Facebook. As the national campaign rhetoric heated up, I found my posts were expressing, and in some cases furthering, the fear that has been the basis for most of the political discourse in our country today. As we started moving through the summer, I found the increasingly cynical tone of other people’s social media posts to be distressing, and it became too easy for me to view people who disagreed with me as “other.”
My final political post was a share of an article that was quietly making the rounds — a piece from the Urban Confessional titled, “How to Listen When You Disagree: A Lesson from the Republican National Convention.” In it, executive coach and author Benjamin Mathes summarized his experience at the RNC, where he set out to simply listen to people:
The truth is, if our love can hold space for paradox, tension, and disagreement, there’s room for all types of beliefs and opinions.
Division is a choice.
Life isn’t a Facebook feed.
Our love, our listening, must bring in, not edit out.
Dare to listen, dare to be quiet, dare to seek understanding; in the end, it’s the people we need to love, not their opinions.
With these words in mind, I give you what is sure to be a controversial read from today’s Washington Post. The Cooleys allowed a Post reporter to get a very intimate look at their life in Winder, Georgia, where Jim Cooley is known for the fact that he carries an assault rifle to his local Walmart store.
Now, here’s the difficult part: put aside all of your feelings about guns, and what you will read is a story about a man who is struggling to feel safe after he encountered some extremely difficult circumstances in life. Do I agree with the manner in which he has responded to those challenges? No, not at all, but that’s not the point. I feel as if I have had, in the spirit of Benjamin Mathes’ call to “dare to seek understanding,” a very intimate listening session with the Cooleys.
With the current political climate and my own views on the topic of guns, I have to admit that it’s not easy to view Jim Cooley as “another me.” But as a Buddhist who works to ground my heart in compassion and equanimity, that’s exactly what I have to do — I have to dare to listen, and dare to be quiet, and dare to seek to understand.