Community Discourse Has Gotten Out of Hand

I occasionally think that life would seem much easier if we could forget that people we disagree with are human.  Just as human as we are.  Then I remember that we do.  We often forget it in our everyday encounters with each other, especially in discussion of issues we disagree on.

This past week, I witnessed many people forget the humanity of their opponents at a school board meeting in Fairfax County.  The agenda for the evening was extensive, and the heated and passionate debate surrounding the proposed changes to the Family Life Education (FLE) Curriculum only made it longer.  Members of the community in favor of the proposed changes dressed in pink and purple, and those opposed to them came in green.  Representatives from both of these color camps presented moving and well-spoken testimonies during the public comment period and received cheers from their respective sides.  Everyone in the auditorium had come to defend something they strongly believed.

Disrespect reared its ugly head most prominently when discussion turned to two proposed amendments to the FLE changes.  Board members hurled thinly veiled accusations at one another, and the unruly audience had to be brought to order over half a dozen times, twice by the pounding of a gavel.  Emotion led many people to act disrespectfully towards one another that night.  I was appalled by the shouting, the interruptions, and the undiluted anger coming from both camps.

At the end of the night, when I offered a smiling goodnight to three or four different men and women on their way out the door, I received scathing looks and no verbal responses at all.  I was not a fellow human being.  I was the enemy. I was wearing the wrong color.  It broke my heart. I think on some level we know that anger and shouting will not change minds.  When emotions run high, we often default to disrespect.  However, there can be no meaningful dialogue and no true relationships if we keep disrespecting each other like this. 

We need to be better than this.  We need to remember that each one of us is created in the image and likeness of God and that even when we disagree, no one of us deserves respect any less.  We need to walk into such situations as the school board meeting ready to give an account of our beliefs both in our words and our deeds, in our position on the issues and in our respect for everyone around us.  The world we live in offers us plenty of opportunities to live out this call we have in Christ to love one another as God has loved us.  In all areas of our lives, and particularly in public discourse, we must be unafraid to live as sons and daughters of Christ, witnessing to Him in our actions.  This requires, at a minimum, that we respect one another.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control… If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.”

-Galatians 5:22,25


By Jordan Hodge

Jordan is a 2018 Summer Policy Intern at The Family Foundation and a graduate of Northeast Catholic College.