Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Is an Agreeable Disagreement Possible?

I’ve had enough of the uproar over NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem. If it were going somewhere—if there were a beneficial conclusion in sight—if anybody had anything new or different to say about it, I might have a different perspective. I’m just tired of the endless repetition of talking points devoid of any productive movement toward resolution.

September 25, on Monday Night Football, the Dallas Cowboys, their owner and their coaches, walked to the center of the field, arms linked, and knelt for a few seconds before the anthem was played, and they were soundly booed; which suggests the ballyhoo really may not be about disrespecting the anthem at all.

A man of color protested the ways some people of color are being unjustly treated. The preponderance of evidence—the tone of the bulk of social media reaction—suggests that had Mr. Kaepernick been white, and had he been protesting taxes, the public outcry likely would have been different.

In the first place, it’s a first amendment issue; and there’s a credible sense in which the primary outcry comes from the same populace that is passionate in its defense of the second amendment, as if one amendment is more important than another. Given our current political majority, and given that the President of the United States said that NFL players who kneel during the National Anthem should be fired[1], I think I can build a case that our first amendment rights are more likely to be abused than are our second amendment rights.

In the second place, taking a knee was never intended as an act of disrespect—of the anthem, or the flag or the sacrifice of our military personnel. Most of those who have chosen to take a knee have stated as much. As a veteran who has served under fire, I take no offense and sense no disrespect. In fact, I served (so I’m told) precisely to defend the rights of those who peacefully protest. More importantly, I served to defend the rights of those on whose behalf the NFL players are protesting.

In the third place, the magnitude of reaction against the act of taking a knee is effectively, if not intentionally, a gross distraction from the real issue. The motivation behind the kneeling protest is the documentable reality that people of color (and other minorities) are treated differently than whites are treated.

I repeat: the documentable reality. But the slightest mention of that reality on social media garners immediate and hostile response. Many people take even general comments about racism very personally, as if those comments amount to accusations directed specifically at them. I have to wonder why they think that!

I’ve seen a lot of statements that begin with, “I’m so tired of people playing the racism card!” Well, it’s not a card, and it’s not being “played.” It’s a reality that hurts many people! Yet, there may be no stronger denial in the USA than the denial of racism.

Finally, the comments I hear and read build a compelling case that the public outcry really is not about disrespect, but about disagreement. Intolerance of disagreement, or of difference, is one of the fastest growing and most dangerous cultural trends of our time. I guess that’s my primary point in this blog.

What we have lost in our culture is not simply the ability to disagree respectfully; what we have lost is any sense that disagreement can have a positive conclusion. We have lost all sense of unity, replacing it with a demand for uniformity—and not just any uniformity. The demand is that everyone agree and conform with “my/our” perspective.

In the past, I have written often about the growing obsession with “being right”—the arrogant[2] assumption that I/we, and only I/we, are absolutely right; the custodians of absolute truth.

Limited as we are by the clay of which we are made, none of us humans is capable of comprehending absolute truth. Without the humility to accept and acknowledge that my/our perspective is partial and incomplete, and that we need each other’s insights to build consensus (rather than inflicting one perspective) there will never be unity among humans.

Until we stop shouting, and start listening—really listening—to each other, there will always be a need to protest.

I have wished Mr. Kaepernick had chosen a more effective expression of protest—one less counterproductive to his own cause. But, I have to wonder, given the animosity that is infecting more and more of our population, whether it would have been possible for him to find any expression of protest that would have been greeted with a less hostile reaction. I fear that’s what we have become. 
Maybe on our knees is where we all need to be.

That’s the way I see it through the flawed glass that is my world view.

Together in the Walk,


[1] And the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, Jerry Jones, said he would do so, which leads me to wonder whether such firings would be grounds for a viable lawsuit on the basis of violation of first amendment rights.
[2] To assume absolute truth is to assume equal status with God, which not only is arrogant; it’s blasphemous! As I understand the doctrine of original sin, it is related to that assumption.