I have roughly 8,000 words worth of blogs sitting in my drafts.

I normally publish anything I write right after I finish writing it. Why save so much of it? Why hoard it?

Because I’m, at my core, deeply afraid of displeasing people, of making them upset at me or my words—which wouldn’t be a problem if I weren’t also prone to speaking my mind.

So much of my mental, emotional, and spiritual energy is deeply invested in maintaining some general, imaginary approval rating. That level of energy-draining concern presents me with some obstacles as a writer, as a believer, and as a person. I want to talk about one of those obstacles today.

Somewhere along the line a couple years ago, I’ve equated “disagreement” with “discord.” And that’s not an unreasonable connection to make, given the recent state of things.1 I’ve not exactly been part of the solution. Last year, I was angry about the USCIS child separation policy and looking for a fight within my (largely conservative) group of acquaintances.2 I’ve brought up divisive topics before on social media—very few of those conversations ended productively, but most of the time I had been posting in good faith and looking for dialogue and understanding.

In this case, I did not, and it ended about as poorly as you can expect.3

Is there a way to confront each other well?

Now, plenty of my vocal conservative and liberal friends don’t post ‘in good faith’ for the sake of ‘dialogue’—most of the things I see come across my feed is a combination of Photoshopped images, memes, and hyper-partisan chum to stir up the waters, but that doesn’t make my own contribution better.4 There’s a time and a place for confrontation, but maybe that wasn’t it—or rather, I wasn’t in the right frame of mind for confrontation.

See, contrary to what my behavior would tell you, confrontation doesn’t require anger. Far from it—it requires stillness. Conviction, clarity of mind, and a clear objective are all vital to productive confrontation. In anger, I have plenty of conviction. What I lack is clarity of mind and clarity of purpose. Stillness, inner peace, a summoning of my mental and emotional resources, whatever you call it, that is what we need for productive confrontation.5

Ever since that post (and the frankly startling conversation it created), I’ve corrected myself. Maybe overcorrected. The right response to that post would be to prepare myself better for back-and-forth and post in good faith (not in rage), but instead I’ve just…stopped writing about anything that would cause anyone to disagree with me. That leads to the sort of writing you might find in Chicken Soup for the Soul: heartwarming, nice, but ultimately shallow with a cloying aftertaste.6

Humility & limited vision

That, I suspect, is why I keep sitting on posts: I’m afraid of a poor response. Which, if you’ve stepped outside anytime in the last several thousand years, is the risk of saying anything ever. Speaking with any sort of conviction, even with as much humility as I can manage, will result in someone somewhere thinking I’m an idiot for believing it. I might as well keep trying to figure things out and keep reaching for the truth.

Even though I started this exercise with writing as my goal, my heart keeps changing the goalpost. It went from “post once a day” to “post a polished essay that somehow everyone likes and agrees with once a day.” One of those is difficult; the other is just plain dumb to attempt.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said:

We must speak with all humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.

At his most unpopular, Dr. King stood up and said what no one else was willing to say: the Vietnam War was wrong. And he paid for it. Perhaps nothing I say will be ever as important as what Dr. King said, but all the same, I’m facing the same obstacles he did: limited vision but with a voice all the same.

So here I am, starting attempt #56 at getting this right.

  1. People like to say we’ve ‘become’ a divided country, but it’s as much that we’ve discovered how divided we are—even as that divide has widened a bit. Knowing that division intimately and firsthand changes what we think of ourselves.
  2. To be clear, nothing I said was wrong. The attitude I brought to the discourse was. I have to be especially even-headed when I post in public. Despite being on the Left, most of my social media circle on Facebook sits on the Right side of the political spectrum, so good conversation has to be cautious and generous.
  3. Perhaps more so—at one point an old professor of mine and an uncle started talking shit. There were some nasty comments and threats of violence thrown around. No one came out of that one a winner.
  4. To be fair, most political clickbait is hyper-partisan chum. At the risk of sounding slavishly centrist, this is not unique to conservatives by any means.
  5. It also helps when you’re actually facing someone, or at least talking to them. Comments lack the breathing room or time cushion of letters or the responsiveness of conversation. In the end, you end up with the worst of both: the off-the-cuff responses of conversation with the long-winded thoroughness of an angry letter.
  6. It’s also unbearably boring. My first priority isn’t to be exciting, but man, it should be somewhere on the list.

Mastering the art of loud humility

Is there a way to confront each other well? Martin Luther King Jr. had a phrase that might point the way forward.