We have the right to disagree. Do we have the wisdom to work together anyway?

by Ashley Bean Thornton

A few weeks ago on a Sunday most of us who read the Waco Trib opened our paper to find a dramatic advertisement – two full pages. The ad expressed a love of Waco and went on to list several beliefs that the signers — more than 100 folks in town, mostly local pastors — hold dear. Not everyone agreed with the beliefs listed in the ad. A group of people who believe differently responded via Facebook posts, letters to the editor and an op-ed piece expressing their own love of Waco and listing their own beliefs. Good for us! I’m sure I don’t need to remind anyone to be thankful for this precious liberty to freely express our widely differing beliefs without fear of being “disappeared.”

We have the right to be divided! But, progress comes from unity. How do we make that paradox work?

I have friends who signed the ad, and I have friends who wrote letters and editorials disagreeing with the ad. Must I choose between them? I profoundly disagree with some people in our community about beliefs that are at the very core of their faith and their identity. Can we still work together to build a stronger Waco?

I generally subscribe to a “live and let live” philosophy. I can be very tolerant when it comes to matters of taste. You like country music, it grates on me a little — but fine, I don’t really care that much. You like the Mavericks, I like the Spurs– it might take me a while, but I can make peace with that.

There comes a point, however, when differences of opinion enter the realm of right and wrong and justice. Who is allowed to marry whoever they want, and who is not? Does a pregnant woman get to be the one who decides if she will carry her pregnancy to term or not? In regard to these kinds of issues my mind is made up. I believe I am right – morally right. That means that to me some of you are wrong. I don’t mean “Wow, that’s an ugly sweater” wrong, but morally wrong, on the wrong side of justice wrong. There comes a point I can no longer “go along to get along,” I have to speak out. Does that mean I can no longer be your friend? Does that mean we can no longer work together on other issues? I worry about that. I don’t want the bitter divisions that seem to be making progress so difficult in our national politics to get in the way of people working together in my own community.

I have had a couple of conversations lately that have shed a little light on this concern. The first conversation was with a new friend. We’ve seen each other’s names for years connected with various community efforts, but we had never really had a talk. She noticed on Facebook that I took a stand that surprised her in regard to Planned Parenthood. She invited me to lunch. Instead of preaching to each other or trying to convince each other to change sides, we simply shared our history with the issue. We talked about what was at the heart of the matter for each of us. It wasn’t a debate. Neither of us changed our minds. We just listened to each other and got to know each other better. I think we parted better friends, despite our deep disagreement about this controversial issue.

The other conversation was with a Pastor friend. We were meeting to discuss job programs and community outreach, but we drifted into a conversation about “The Big Ad.” We talked candidly about some of the areas where our personal convictions are most different from each other. We parted, as we always do, with a hug.

I’m sure these kinds of conversations take place every day, but I don’t want us to take them for granted. They are crucial to the work of our community, and, at the risk of being overly dramatic, I believe they are crucial to the work of democracy. I am deeply thankful for free speech and the freedom to disagree, but if all we know how to do is disagree with each other, we will have a tough time moving forward.

I have reflected a bit on what made these conversations possible. I believe it is that these friends and I know more about each other than just our opinions on a couple of hot button issues. We are complicated to each other. I know, for example, that both these people love Waco. They love the people of Waco. They are working hard. They give generously of their time and energy and creativity to make our community stronger. And so, I can approach a conversation with them – even about a difficult topic – with respect and curiosity instead of with “shields up.” I can be vulnerable to them. I can expose my own mixed feelings without fear that they will use them against me. In both these conversations there was an implied rule that we weren’t trying to change each other, we were genuinely trying to get to know each other more deeply.

Making progress together while holding sacred our right to disagree is complicated. It’s easy for me to stay nested with other folks who believe just like I do and to reduce the people who believe differently to one-dimensional targets. To work together across our differences we have to be complicated to each other. We have to know more about each other than just our points of disagreement. To do that we need to figure out ways to spend some time together, to get to know each other, and to talk…not debate, not negotiate, not persuade…just talk and listen.

me and omarThis Act Locally Waco blog post is by Ashley Bean Thornton, the Manager of the www.www.actlocallywaco.org website and the editor of the WHOLE Enchilada newsletter. The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco.

If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.



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