How we ourselves engage conversations will affect their quality
“Play the ball and not the player…” is a phrase anyone who has played soccer knows well. When the player focuses on the ball rather than the opponent, good and clean tackles are made, fewer hurts and injuries occur and the game is a lot more enjoyable for the spectators.
It seems that at this time in our history there is more than usual at play, in terms of issues to be discussed and resolved, at many levels of community — locally, nationally and globally. This is magnified during times when there are elections and other important debates in progress. Playing the ball and not the player is a piece of sporting advice that can and should be considered for all who engage in debate, private or public. Too often, it seems, we are quicker to take aim at the person or people whose views we oppose, than we are to actually debate the sides of the issue at hand.
One might respond that keeping the debates of the day respectful and balanced is the responsibility of others – those in positions of power and authority, or those vying for them, or those in the “back room” who give advice, or the media. However, the responsibility for fair play really lies squarely with us, the readers, the voters, the members of which ever community’s future is at stake.
Our response to players playing the player rather than the ball (i.e. negative advertising, personal attacks, name calling etc.) is what determines the ongoing level of the discourse. How we ourselves engage in the conversations will also affect their quality.
May I make some practical suggestions for a better quality of dialogue:
1. When you hear someone becoming personal about those with whom they disagree, register your distaste, refuse to listen, walk away if necessary.
2. When people do go negative and personal, insist that they talk about what they are for, rather than who they are against.
3. Become a part of the solution rather than adding to the problem, by modeling respectful dialogue and constructive critique in your own conversations.
4. Accept that those with whom you disagree also desire what is good for their community and for the world; rather than disparage their motives look for what is good in their views and seek common ground on which to build consensus.
All of this may be helpful for the smoother running of our secular affairs, however there is an important spiritual element to it as well. Wherever people are in terms of faith, it can surely be appreciated that the words we use can be and are hurtful to those who are their targets. When we hurt and disparage others for our own purposes, we are being destructive of something or someone else’s dignity and worth. It is as if we are trampling over a bed of flowers or spoiling a pristine environment.
“All of creation yearns for the revealing of the children of God” wrote St. Paul in reference to the gift of the indwelling of God’s spirit of life in us; we have within us the capacity and the calling to be agents of harmony and cooperation in creation and that includes the ways in which we treat each other.
May that spirit of goodwill, respect and dignity be revealed in our shared humanity especially in the ways in which we work out our differences.
Rev. Alan Naylor is at St. Mark’s Anglican Church, Qualicum Beach