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We are Not our Opinions

We all have opinions, but we are not our opinions. Does that seem simple enough? Does it feel true or untrue for you? How we view our relationship to our opinions matters deeply because basic civility appears to be eroding all around us. With civility, people of very different opinions can still love each other and treat each other with kindness and respect. Without civility, there is no civilization.

Laura McMullen had to send more than a dozen kids home from Upland High in the first week of this post-covid school year, primarily for fighting. What? In one week? What happened? Through the months of lockdown, too many young people substituted digital connections for real ones. You know what that leads to—you do read the comments after news stories, don’t you? In online interactions, people are short—short-tempered, short-sighted, and short-worded. In clearing out all the care of careful wording, we end up with brute rudeness. Amplify all that rudeness on TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram (and all the socials we adults don’t even know about), and we have a formula for moving people from the slightest offense to utter outrage in less than a heartbeat.

Civility lives in that gap between perception and response. If we feel offended, the clock is ticking on our response. Civility takes its time and measures many consequences. Foolishness simply reacts—shoots from the hip—and fast-draws one’s opponent to gun them down asap. That reaction time may be shorter today than ever.

Case in point: this year’s Oscars. A top comedian pokes fun at several multi-millionaire A-listers, and in the blink of an eye, the rules change. A black-tie affair becomes a black-eye affair. The thing to note is the incredible speed at which a standard, good-natured ribbing turned into an unforgivable offense—one calling for violence and the crudest kind of rebuke. What happened to that gap—that pause between perceived insult and acting out in violence? What happened to thinking it through and responding instead of reacting? One answer is the erosion of civility.

We are not our opinions. We have opinions, and we hold opinions, but they are not us—they are ideas with some emotional commitment behind them—but if someone else insults your opinion, they have not insulted you unless you fail to make the distinction.

I have no problem sitting with total atheists friends—who think Christianity is the greatest plague on civilization—and do so as good friends. Of course, my opinion is that they are blind as cave moles, but I still like them personally. I don’t conflate their mistaken ideas with their soul or personhood. They just have and hold opinions that are, in my opinion, half-baked. Likewise, I am not hurt when my friend scoffs at what he thinks I believe. He attacks an idea, not me. I take no personal offense and feel no need to defend my honor with angry fists, nor will I go off to pout about it. There is no need.

Civility allows others to think differently and hold different opinions without feeling personal slight or offense of dignity. It is crucial to acknowledge that they are just ideas—even bad ones—but those ideas are not the same as a person’s soul.

God commands us to love freely and unconditionally—even our enemies—and to do that, we must see our enemies as God sees them: as his beloved creatures. Yes, his beloved creatures can have wacky, wrong-headed ideas, but those wrong opinions do not diminish God’s perfect love. Our task is to locate our souls—our most serious spirituality—within that perfect love. Doing so takes time and patience. The forces of evil depend upon quick and thoughtless reactions.

We are more than our opinions. We all have opinionWe all have opinions, but we are not our opinions. Does that seem simple enough? Does it feel true or untrue for you? How we view our relationship to our opinions matters deeply because basic civility appears to be eroding all around us. With civility, people of very different opinions can still love each other and treat each other with kindness and respect. Without civility, there is no civilization.s, but we are not our opinions. Does that seem simple enough? Does it feel true or untrue for you? How we view our relationship to our opinions matters deeply because basic civility appears to be eroding all around us. With civility, people of very different opinions can still love each other and treat each other with kindness and respect. Without civility, there is no civilization.Let us prove it. As we seek to grow in Christ and make Him known, let us agree on the value of patience, gentleness, and the discipline of slow responses from our participation in God’s perfect love. It will build a more civil world, and we will find ourselves living in the joy and justice God intends.  †

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