Monday, May 16, 2016

Ready, steady - argue!!!

One of the things I very much enjoy about visiting other cultures are opportunities to watch people have a good old row with style and grace. Nations I've visited in mainland Europe, Latin America and Africa all demonstrate an ability to disagree and debate without it causing offence in a way we Brits are incapable of.

I've been thinking about this a lot recently for three reasons.

1) I applied for a job with an organisation that aims to build up communities' resilience to intolerance - principally, as far as I can tell, intolerance of immigrants and muslims - the sort whipped up by the Daily Mail or far-right political groups. They work to create 'safe spaces' where people can come together and discuss their real and possibly 'unacceptable' feelings about these issues without judgement.

The organisation struggles to communicate about its work (it has no website, for example) because, as soon as you begin to put what they do into written or recorded words, you lose the essence of its conversational nature and push it onto inflammatory territory. 

2) I was sent the report from a major international Anglican event I worked on in 2008 and was reminded of the Indaba at its heart. This Zulu word refers to a type of communal discernment achieved by open and respectful small group conversation. Indaba was used to provide delegates with an alternative to taking sides on controversial issues (such as gay bishops.)

The conference was criticised for not publishing formal resolutions on matters such as homosexuality in the Anglican Communion. For me, this was a wise move. Any written expression would inevitably have polarised rather than united.

3) In my own church, I learn that all people who serve there in a teaching capacity must sign up to a list of faith statements with which many Christians, including myself, are uncomfortable.

It seems to me that here a written law is being expected to do the job of genuine relationship, conversation and grace. It is looked to for the creation of unity and clarity when, in fact, all it can do is divide people from one another.

It's always hard to figure out how best to disagree with people. I get it wrong all the time! But if we are to build strong relationships and communities in the face of polarising media, rampant individualism, consumerism and fear of Others, we must learn to remain together through conversations that involve disagreement.

Come on team GB - get arguing!!

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