Do you care what I believe? If you really don’t know me well, do you care what I believe about politics? About religion? About anything? If we were to cozy up at Starbucks to spend some time getting to know one another, would your first question be about current political issues? Or would it be about my family, my upbringing, my favorite genre of music? What would I ask you? What’s your favorite book/movie/song/memory of your childhood? Where do you like to shop? How do you spend your days?
And what if we found we liked each other? What if we found we had the same taste in music and movies? Had read some of the same books? Decorated our kitchens in a similar motif? What if, right there in Starbucks, time stood still for a while while we explored a new found friendship?
When the conversation finally turns to more controversial topics, what if we have divergent opinions on some issues? Now that we have a foundation of mutual interests, now that we “like” each other, what are we likely to do? Discuss the issues? Talk about how we came to our conclusions? Reveal the values we hold dear that led us to our beliefs? Banter back and forth respectfully? Will we be motivated to try and understand each other’s viewpoints? Are we willing to believe the best about each other, because we are ‘friends’? Even if we never see each other again, we will both have benefited from the exercise of dialogue in an attempt to understand.
Now . . . if you and I are strangers, and we somehow engage in a conversation about politics or religion, finding ourselves on opposite sides of an issue, how likely do you think we are to keep it ‘friendly’? How easy will it be for me to make assumptions about what else you believe? How easy will it be for you to dismiss me, boxing me in with stereotypes and negative labels? You and your latte will walk to your car, muttering under your breath about idiots who are the cause of all society’s ills. I will take my Americano and fume about idiots who lack critical thinking skills. We will leave much as we came, perhaps more entrenched in our personal beliefs and less willing than ever to even listen to anyone who has a different opinion, idea, thought, or value.