Every two weeks I spend time with a Japanese hating anti-Semite.
We drink coffee (she puts milk in hers only because the doctor says it’s good for her bones although I tell her that her bones have done OK for 94 years, and the damage is already done), we read the paper and she gives my boys too much chocolate.
I know which topics not to get her started on. What’s the point? She’s an old lady living in a run down house who won’t be with us for much longer. My opinions aren’t going to change her. I don’t define her by our differences but by what we have in common. I know her stories, I know what she wishes that she was and what she was never able to be.
But there aren’t that many occasions during the week when I choose to spend time with someone with views that are so different to my own. I find it difficult to love people who don’t agree with me on the ‘big issues’. OK you’re not going to see me yelling at them or waving placards or being abusive but I can do some hard core seething and my righteous indignation (even if totally invisible to anyone not inside my brain) can be absolutely withering.
Even if I’m not actively arguing with people though, creating a mental ‘us’ and ‘them’ can still be very damaging both on a soul and real-world level. As I yell at my children when they’re bickering or unforgiving or just generally not agreeing with each other, ‘THIS IS HOW WARS START, YOU KNOW THAT?!’.
We see the people that we love with different eyes. We may be sad at their opinions or their views but we either understand why they hold them (in my Nan’s case, a very poor upbringing, little education, the loss of loved ones and the stress of all the men in her life away fighting in WW2) or we realise that there is more to them than the things that we don’t agree on.
We know their stories.
Is that the solution to all the name calling and hatred and just general awfulness that gets us down even on the brightest and shiniest of days? If we could just listen to the stories of those who we disagree with then how different would the world be. This is what has happened to me in my life. This is how I have suffered. These were my dreams.
I don’t even think that this is a way to get people ‘on our side’. I don’t think that knowing someone better should segue into a clever way to evangelise for our cause. I just think that it’s harder to hate or make blanket statements about someone when we really know where they’re coming from. When we know that they were bullied as children or that they had an abortion and regret it or that they got trapped into a minimum wage job and just couldn’t find a way out.
We can’t change other people. We just can’t. The best we can do is try to understand them, and love them where they’re at. And pray that other people can do the same for us.