Loving Trolls and Deplorables

In her latest book, The Opposite of Hate: A Field Guide to Repairing Our Humanity, liberal political commentator Sally Kohn shared the following thoughts:

...[T]he experience of getting to know and like many conservatives and at the same time receiving more and more hate mail from conservatives presented me with a choice. From here on out, was I going to believe that most conservatives were like the ones I’d worked with at Fox News, or was I going to assume that most conservatives were like the ones sending me hateful messages online? Which was the exception, and which was the rule? Honestly, I probably could have made a case either way. This was a decision that tested my core principles. I could either choose to hate most conservatives or not. I found my answer in my aunt Lucy.

Aunt Lucy has a deep love for her friends and family, a great sense of humor, and a laugh that feels like a tickle. Aunt Lucy (not her real name, by the way) lives in the middle of the country and is a conservative Republican. She also loves me and my partner and our daughter and welcomes us with open arms at every family occasion we manage to attend. The few times we’ve cautiously talked politics, Aunt Lucy has been curious and kind. Aunt Lucy watches Fox News, and eventually it dawned on me that most Fox viewers are probably just like her — decent, curious about the news, intending to learn and do something good with the information. I started to picture my aunt Lucy when I would go on Fox, and then when I would go on CNN, and even when I would respond to people on Twitter. It made it easier for me to think and talk and act from a place of kindness, not hate — to not stereotype the invisible people on the other side of those screens but instead to imagine my aunt Lucy, someone I love and respect.

For me, it’s infinitely more encouraging, not to mention more effective, to treat conservatives as a bunch of Aunt Lucys instead of a cache of trolls or a “basket of deplorables.” Nobody is going to engage in a constructive dialogue with me if they think I believe they’re a bridge-dwelling gnome or a totable pile of rot.

Do you have an Aunt Lucy? If we're honest with ourselves, we all know someone who, outside of political conversations, is a decent person who shows us kindness, maybe even loves us. They may be completely opposite of us when it comes to political questions, but that wasn't always as insurmountable an obstacle to human connection as it seems to have become.

Let me give you an example. I love, honor and adore my mother and father, not just because they are my parents, but because they are God-fearing, loving and giving people. My mother routinely puts other people's well-being before her own, and I've not met the person that didn't like my father. People he knew from decades ago will come to visit him and bring him gifts because of the affable, approachable man he is.

People who have no blood relation to my parents affectionately call them Grandpa and Grandma Miller. They are the center and heart of a community that is lacking in both, and both of them love the Lord and seek out His guidance for their lives.

They are both Democrats.

According to today's script, as a conservative, I'm supposed to shun them or, at least, question the state of their souls because all Democrats are {insert horrible descriptors here}. That's utterly ludicrous, though - I know it and you know it, just as it's ludicrous to believe all Republicans are {insert horrible descriptors here}. And what about those squishy independents?

The reasons for people being politically aligned as they are aren't comprehensible unless you know them or know their story. That means listening to them rather than formulating your response even as they're trying to talk to you.

Romans 12:18 says, "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." That's my life verse, and anyone who knows me well knows that I live by it. As a believer, I know that every person, even the flaming {insert political party or ideological label here} on Facebook, is made in the image of God. That manifests itself in me in this way; I find it practically impossible to hate. I don't share that to boast, and I don't know if that could change someday due to circumstances unforeseen. All I know is that I can't even fake hatred, and for that, I give God all the glory.

Sally Kohn discovered what many of us who are open to venturing beyond our tribal boundaries and into the frontier already know; real human contact changes how you view people. Once you begin to relate to them as human, just as you are, barriers fall and the possibility for dialogue increases. No one is asking anyone to surrender deeply held principles - the objective is understanding and, in so doing, I think we'll find that a lot of what we consider essential is really not, and we gain greater clarity and confidence in what truly matters to us.

It is because of this that this particular passage of Scripture is clearer to me now:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. ~ Ephesians 6:12

We are so ready to go to war with people when we don't know anything about them - their experiences, their struggles - to paraphrase a line from the movie, Twister, why they are the way they are. Satan loves nothing better than for people to turn on each other because that means relationships aren't happening, and neither is loving others as yourself or making disciples.

The late Dr. Stephen Covey said:

If I were to summarize in one sentence the single most important principle I have learned in the field of interpersonal relations, it would be this: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

The apostle Paul said, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves" (Philippians 2:3).

Love God. Love people. Do good things. Simple to say but hard to do.