No question – our nation is becoming a polarized place. Civil discourse is out; loud, sometimes violent assertion of opinion is in. Sensational news reporting is what sells. No one wants to really understand. How can we turn this around?
Teenagers see the opinionated world of adults on news channels, in school, and even perhaps in church. How do they choose their own path? How can we soften the discourse in our nation?
Teens often choose to follow their parents’ beliefs. Parents like this. But are parents offering a good example of citizenship? Can dinner table talks (does anyone have these anymore?) include civil debate on social issues? How about presenting the other side’s arguments in an objective way and asking questions that help everyone understand?
Teens sometimes choose to walk in direct opposition to their parents. Parents don’t usually like this. Again, do adults offer a good example? How can adults learn to discuss issues of disagreement with teens if those teens seem closed to any discussion? When have you tried to discuss a controversial topic with another adult you know thinks differently?
First of all, let’s learn to express opinions without absolute certainty. Let’s encourage questions. Let’s frame unbiased intelligent questions that, if answered honestly, will further discernment.
Social media, as well as on-line interaction in general, is geared toward getting attention. Just as sensational reporting sells TV news, shocking or biting comments get attention on social media sites. Posts are “rated” by the number of “likes.” Everyone wants their photo or video to “go viral.” Fame: everyone wants their fifteen minutes. I do not think the answer is for everyone to get off Facebook and Twitter. Personally, I believe these to be excellent tools for sharing ideas that by their nature are not covered by news outlets, or part of the viral video archive. Perhaps we ought to encourage raising more questions instead of sharing shocking photos or stories.
Here’s an idea. Ask your teens what they feel is an important issue in the world today. Have them do some online research. Maybe encourage them to find opposing articles on the subject. Share links to these sites or articles. Let them ask questions, not poke holes in arguments. Share the questions. Encourage discussion.
Some think the Bible speaks in only one voice. Not true. Many disagreements fill the pages. Some stories indicate very little discussion behind the scenes. Other stories show how thoughtful prayer and loving relationships encourage community. We are created for community. Relationships are everything. Bible study that doesn’t encourage community is sterile and isolating.
Final thought: when leading teens in Bible study, let’s look for some disagreements. Let’s encourage questioning of Bible characters motives. Jonah is a great example of a guy who didn’t want to forgive his enemies and was actually afraid that God would do just that. So he ran away. Let’s not be like Jonah. Our world needs understanding and forgiveness to move forward. It is a relatively small globe, this earth. All humans share the image of God. Can we make real progress in seeking to understand one another?
Let’s encourage one another to be part of the solution.