My husband and I were able to take a few days last week to travel to San Diego to celebrate our first anniversary. We bought tickets to Belmont Park, an amusement park by the beach. On our way into the park, we were stopped by a young man working for Save the Children. He did his job well, we had a nice conversation, and we agreed to sign up to donate (and then realized we were just a few months shy of the 25 year age requirement…but hey, now it’s on our radar!).
That same day I saw a link from Save the Children on my social media feed, in addition to a few others of my favorite charities, such as the AMAR Foundation, O.U.R. (Operation Underground Railroad), and LDS Charities. Something in particular stuck out to me about these interruptions in my news feed.
I follow these organizations, and so I see their content on social media, but this time I was compelled to wonder why I enjoyed seeing them so much, why they felt like such a breath of fresh air. So I paid a little more attention to everything around them, and I realized something: I enjoyed the fact that they weren’t political.
Okay, so that’s not totally true. In a strictly etymological sense, just about everything important in the public sphere is political. These organizations deal with people, community and global problems, policy and government, and money just as much as anything else does. The difference is that they center on issues just about everyone agrees on. Everyone agrees that children should have access to food, water, medical care, and education. Everyone agrees that human trafficking is despicable and tragic and must be stopped. Everyone agrees that it’s a shame that people are displaced from their homes and (regardless of views on war and immigration) refugees around the world are in need of help and support.
When you think about it, we agree on a lot. And we agree on a lot of very important things. So I wonder why we spend so much time talking about things we don’t agree on, often just for the sake of the disagreement. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to disagree, and it’s important to talk about the things we disagree on. We’re arguing about what LGBT rights are and how those rights should be protected; we’re arguing about issues facing women and how to address them in public policy and culture; we’re arguing about climate change and to what extent government should impose regulations for the environment; we’re arguing about a lot of things. And we should be, because that’s part of the privilege of being in a governmental system where we have a voice and a vote.
But why is it that controversy goes viral, and things we all agree on don’t? Shouldn’t the things we all agree on and the things we all care about be the things we share and publicize the most? The potential benefits I see two-fold:
- If we focused more on what we agree on, we’d be a lot less miserable. We’d have better friendships and family relationships; we’d feel less inclined to judge and be defensive in all of our interactions; we’d be more encouraged by the goodness in humanity.
- Even more importantly, we’d actually get a few things done.
Arguing about what we disagree on is an important step toward change, but it only becomes change once we can get (at least most of us) to agree on something. Yet we seem to enjoy the argument so much that we don’t want to move on to the action stage of the equation. LGBT issues, women’s issues, and climate change issues (as just a few examples), are important, but why do I see sooo many more conversations about those things than about trafficking, or abuse, or poverty? Do we realize that if we all agree on those issues, we have immense manpower and resources to solve problems? Do we realize how much we can do just by agreeing?
If we, especially as Americans and other very privileged citizens of the world, put our time and energy into issues that we already agree on, how much could we accomplish? I’d even venture to say that the issues we disagree on would work themselves out more completely—because we’d be united, we’d be looking outside of ourselves, and, having established common ground, we’d be more willing to understand one another and work together.
I recognize that I’m just as much a part of the problem as anyone. I don’t have ready solutions and I’m not doing enough. But I strongly believe that if we focused more of our conversations on issues we agree on, we’d spend more time finding solutions and less time finding more problems.
It’s okay to agree to (respectfully) disagree. But there’s also a lot of value in just agreeing.
What if we started just by trying to give controversy and unity equal time? Here’s a challenge: the next time you share a post or a comment that you know will be controversial or contribute to an argument (and by all means, do participate in that conversation), find something to share that will bring unity. Something that you know will only find agreement. Something positive, or something that everyone wants to change for the better. Something that compels people not to argue, but to act.
Agree to agree. And enjoy it.