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  • Writer's pictureJohn Selzer

Rise Up With Fists!

Okay, simmer down now. We are all in this together. Let’s start acting like it.

When you have a disagreement, is your first response anger? Does your blood pressure rise and your cheeks flush at the hint of conflict? How long before the claws come out and you forcefully declare, “You’re wrong”, “You just don’t know what’s really going on”, or worse, “You’re a %#&@ing idiot”?

Welcome to the byproduct of a 24-hour news cycle and the visceral underbelly of social media and its influence. It seems we have become incapable of thoughtful discourse with those who hold opinions that differ from our own. And with it, the simple concept of civility has faded into obscurity.

In order to keep our attention – and fill the 1,440 minutes in each and every day – the never-ending news networks have chosen sensationalism and the vigorous stirring of pots to keep viewers tuned in. Conflict makes for good entertainment, you know. The result, unfortunately, is a heighted state of agitation, a constant feeling of general unease and why they sell a crap-ton of Xanax.

Couple this with the anonymity and digital distance of social media and we have become trained to immediately pile on someone we disagree with. That it is perfectly reasonable to lob 280-character grenades at complete strangers. They’re not real people, right? Just a detached digital account with a tiny, almost unrecognizable profile picture.

But none of this translates into a face-to-face world. Or even to being a decent human being, really.

Last year, I attended an inter-faith panel that brought together an Episcopal priest, an Islamic imam and a Jewish rabbi. While it might sound like the setup for a “walked into a bar” joke, the event was a fascinating, open and honest exploration of the three religions. And the crowd in attendance was representative of the panel itself.

In 2008, my wife and I had the great fortune of traveling through Egypt. For someone who as a kid dreamt of being an archeologist, it was a bucket list trip, for sure. One afternoon while traveling between points of interest, the members of our small group had a chance to get into a deep discussion around religion with our Egyptologist. The group skewed Christian (with a dash of the Jewish faith), and she the lone Muslim. It was a thought-provoking and pivotal moment for dispelling generalized perceptions, biases and myth. From all sides.

What made these experiences effective was that they were approached without judgment, with an open mind and a sense of intellectual curiosity. And a clear expectation that the intent was not to change minds or prove points, but to better understand and appreciate our differences. With respect. They were safe spaces where beliefs and opinions – no matter how strongly held – were statements, not battle lines.

Religion is just one hill people seem to be willing to die on. This post could have just as easily focused on politics, sexual orientation or identity, or any other topic that elicits strong, emotionally-fueled responses. Unfortunately, there are just too many of them these days.

The problem is that we are way too focused on our differences. Why we are right and you are wrong. We have settled into a mindset of if you are not on my team, then you are my enemy. Okay when you are in a Game of Thrones episode or facing off on a sporting field; not so much anywhere else.

Instead, we need to start with commonalities, then work outwards in concentric circles. When you find common ground, you begin with the assumption ‘we are the same’ and differences add nuance, not conflict. A good starting place might be something as simple as ‘I am a human being, and so are you.’

This is not complex stuff, folks. It does not take much.

We can do better. And we should. It can start with you. A movement cannot be set in motion without that first push.

Turn off the news feed. Step out of the echo chamber. Pause, take a deep breath and rethink things before instinctively firing off that aggressive post. Treat others with respect. Agree to disagree – politely. Know you can both love someone dearly and fiercely disagree (even on a lot of things). Be kind. Or at least, don’t be a jerk. Maybe even weave a little empathy into your day.

You might find that being decent is way more fulfilling than being your version of ‘right’.


Rise Up With Fists! by Jenny Lewis & The Watson Twins

This song is classic Jenny Lewis. It has everything that makes her so great: strong vocal work (lead and backing), a solid tune and lyrics that carry more weight than might be expected. Though this song was released in 2006, it is just as prescient today. For instance: “It's hard to believe your prophets / When they're asking you to change things / With their suspect lives, we look the other way / Are you really that pure, sir? / Thought I saw you in Vegas / It was not pretty, but she was (not your wife).” That last part is particularly awesome as the parenthetical is delivered by the backup singers. Brilliant.

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