Every argument starts with an assumption. Usually more than one.
If I assume the Bible is the literal Word of God and you assume it’s a dangerous collection of fairy tales, we’re going to have a hard time agreeing on anything that touches my religion–which is pretty much everything. If I assume Ted Cruz is a great American patriot and you assume the same of Bernie Sanders, we’re going to have a hard time finding common ground on the direction we think our country should go. If I assume the Second Amendment protects my right to own as many guns as I want, whatever their capabilities or configurations, and you assume the framers never anticipated the sorts of weapons we have access to today and keeping the wrong guns out of the wrong hands is worth a few more restrictions, it’s going to be hard for us to see each other’s positions.
Add the Internet to the mix, where news outlets want nothing so much as to attract your attention so they can expose you to the ads on their pages, and you get a culture of clickbait. You get a culture of train wrecks–found and manufactured. Civil arguments give way to shouting matches. Respectful debate yields to name-calling. More and more noise across more and more channels leads to louder and louder voices willing to say whatever they must to hold their listeners’ attention.
And pretty soon (as in now, today, this minute) we’ve trained our culture that argument and shouting are the same thing. We’ve trained our people that an opinion and a fact are the same thing, that winning is more important than learning. We’ve trained our children that anyone who disagrees with us is at best ignorant, and at worst evil.
And then we shake our heads in shock when one of our children uses the training we’ve given him to destroy others.
And we scramble to assign blame for what happened, because we don’t remember how to question or doubt or learn. We blame the guns. We blame his religion. We blame our president. We blame the people on the other side of the ocean who have declared us their enemy.
We blame everybody but ourselves. We blame everything except the culture we have created.
Because to blame our culture is to blame ourselves. And to blame ourselves is to require ourselves to change. And to require ourselves to change is to admit we were wrong to create this culture in the first place, and to commit ourselves to a lifetime of hard work none of us knows how to do.
I don’t know, either. But maybe it’s time to change our assumptions.
For a long time, we’ve assumed that anger and fear and violence are the way to protect ourselves. We’ve assumed that we must meet force with force, that differences that make us uncomfortable must be tolerated at best and crushed at worst. We’ve assumed the teachings of Lao Tzu and Jesus and the Buddha and Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela are all very well for them, but they don’t work in our world. And we’ve left it to them to explain why their way was the right one.
We’ve assumed the guy with the gun doesn’t have to explain himself.
What if we change that assumption?
What if we assume Jesus had the right idea when he said Love your neighbor as yourself?
What if we assume Lao Tzu knew what he was talking about when he said Be like water and find the low places?
What if we assume the Buddha was on to something when he said Understanding is more important than control?
What if we assume our place is to love, to help, to seek common ground? What if we ask those who want to hurt, to hate, to exclude, to explain themselves? What if we assume their world is the unrealistic one?
What kind of culture could we build on those assumptions?
I like that culture better. That’s the culture I’m going to try to build.
So here’s the deal: I’m going to assume Jesus and Gandhi and Dr. King and Mr. Mandela were right. I’m going to assume the right thing to do is to help, not hurt. I’m going to assume the right thing to do is to seek understanding and learning, not scream I’m right. I’m going to assume the right thing to do is love, include, and embrace–not hate, cast out, and ignore.
If you assume otherwise, now you can explain yourself.