Friday, August 27, 2010

The difficulty of One Good Thing

On Sunday I put out a request to readers -- a little project called One Good Thing. I wanted people to say one good thing about some group they oppose. The idea was simple.

But simple doesn't mean easy.

"Perhaps I can find something good to say about lawyers," said a reader named Greg. "I'll work on it."

"I have been wracking my brain and I still can't find a positive thing to say about the Dems other than I will love them when they leave," said my Facebook friend Tom.

Other people gave it a try, but couldn't quite hand over an unadulterated compliment. There was always a catch.

"As much as I dislike..."

"Even though they are completely wrong..."

"Despite the fact that I choose to spend my life as far away from them as possible..."

It took a day and a half before I got the first pure compliment, from a reader named Jessica:

"I admire the Tea Party for actively using their Right to Assembly as I don't know if I would ever have the guts to attend a political protest."

But by the time Jessica weighed in, it was clear that the story wasn't about how people could find ways to say one good thing. The story was how hard it is to do it at all.

Why is that?

Maybe it's the way we've turned life into sports. We argue a lot of issues now the same way crazy basketball fans argue Carolina vs. Duke -- there's nothing bad about our guys, there's nothing good about the other guys, no quarter, no surrender. Giving an inch, or conceding the other person might have a point, doesn't show that you're reasonable; it shows that you're weak.

Maybe it's that we're overwhelmed. The more information that we need to process, the more we need filters. It takes time and effort to think about some group you oppose and try to find some common ground. It's a lot easier to just filter them out as bad guys.

Maybe it's just that it feels good, in a frustrating world, to have a nice soft pillow to punch.

"I don't mean to undermine your attempt at creating a bridge to understanding, but I don't think the bridge will withstand the weight of fear and anger that is growing," a reader named Tim said back on Sunday.

He could be right.

But as the week went by, other voices stepped in.

Brendan said, "I respect those who frequent the Epicentre for their energy and zest for life."

Doc B said, "I am impressed with the attitude and courtesy I've seen from high school age students."

Bonnie said, "One good thing about Rush Limbaugh is he has saved AM talk radio."

And Tom said, "The Board of Education for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System deserves a pat on the back. They have a daunting job that requires commitment, passion, and understanding. I am not sure I could deal with all of the criticism, pressures, and issues they face daily."

Tom wrote in a little later to say he had been a high-school teacher but had decided to resign: "Believe me, it was a tough task to say something positive about the school board."

So it turns out it's really hard to say one good thing about a group you don't like. But it's possible.

And, I believe, it's necessary.

Here are more attempts at One Good Thing... some of these didn't quite qualify as unadulterated compliments, but take a look. -- Tommy

Republicans: I admire their commitment to national security. -- Esther

One good thing about Atlanta: you do not have to travel far when you decide to move to Charlotte. -- Fori

I admire the Muslims' uncompromising dedication to moral purity. A lot of Christians, myself included, should pay more attention to that.-- Rod

One good thing about the Panthers is that they are located here in Charlotte.-- Tawanya

I really get annoyed at panhandlers. When necessary, I look the other way, cross the street or turn around. My radar is up and I can sense when I am going to be approached. After capturing the scene below, I have been thinking I spend a whole lot of time and money of stuff that may seem important; it's not really. I should at least speak to the person. An urban camper has no less standing than me.
-- Scott (who also took the photo)

People who want to be sure I’m constantly aware of who they know and where they’ve been and what they have drive me crazy. But those things make them happy and I like happy people.
-- Kathy

I believe that the Republican Tea Partiers are right in their belief that something is wrong.
-- Roy

Far-right radio and TV talk show commentators surely love their families as much as I love mine. -- Sandy

I think Nancy Pelosi sticks with her convictions through thick and thin... no matter how wrong they may be! -- anonymous


Marion Duncan said...

Excellent article. I, also, have trouble sometimes not being small minded about the small minded. I find myself running in the other direction from the "piously religious". But I will have to say that they often do more outreach and definitely more evangelism than the more liberal religions I love. As I study through the end of my days, I struggle to find a common ground and love for those who seem closed minded. I may not can open their minds, but I can open my own.

Anonymous said...

Tommy, check out the One Good Thing group on FB. Not exactly about groups one may oppose, but perhaps better in the long run. Started by a friend of mine and I am a proud member who has posted at times. May lend something to the story.

Anonymous said...

I'm feeling bleak and misanthropic.

I can find nothing good to say about those I loathe.

Scott Foster said...

Slurping Hater-aid. That's what we do.

Boy, it's made me think. If we have not experienced grace (read: unmerited acceptance), how can we extend it to others? Maybe the difficulty has it's roots in the lack of experience of being accepted and recognized as having value. We are mirroring what we have experienced. I know I do.


Larry said...

I just scratch my head and wonder why is it suddenly so important for people to get along and find good things about each other.

I mean for the last several years it has been pure h double hockey sticks, and talk about mean spirited!

So this new wave sweeping the country over the last year and a half seems strange.

Can you explain it to those of us who watch and closed our eyes when people laughed when our President had shoes thrown at him?

In fact a blow up giant of a Doll of President Bush, with military garb, was placed in Washington, and thousands threw shoes at it while laughing during one of the many, many protests.

And the hanging chad thing seemed to be the catalyst that started all this mess. It was then the fire just seem to consume some people after that and nothing would ever be the same for them again.

So please explain this new let's get the Conservatives in line by making them think this a big ole camp and we can just sit by the fire and sing.

Maybe we Conservatives have also reached the point where nothing will ever the same for us again.

tommy tomlinson said...

Anon 7:24, is this the one?

Anonymous said...

Poor, poor Larry.

Poor, poor misunderstood Larry, scion of conservatism.

It all started in 2000, didn't it?

Before that, all was harmony and light.

Never mind:
-impeachment for lying about a blowjob
-lies told about the Clintons that consumed his presidency, including those peddled by that bible-thumping piece of crackercrumb, fat Jerry Falwell (he should have prayed to Jeebus for that eating disorder, huh?)
-The Nancy, er Ronald Raygun presidency, more crammed full of lies and deceit from a Hollywood backlot than any movie ever

Stow your weepy sanctimony, Larry. No one believes you.

But we laugh at you every freaking day.

Dr. Jimmy said...

I believe the anger and frustration felt by all Americans is generated by 535 bozos in Congress that quit representing us a long time ago. However, thanks to billions spent on pundits and media they've managed to steer our anger at each other. Democrats and Republicans treat their job like they're on opposing benches in a damn football game. HELLO!? I thought they were supposed to be on the same team. It's a unified and strong America that's needed to win in this current global environment.

Larry said...

Ano 10:44 Thanks for helping me make my point better than I ever could.

Funny how you don't have any mirrors in you world.

Scott Foster said...

We do not hate as long as we still attach a lesser value, but only when we attach an equal or a greater value.
- Friedrich Nietzsche

Why give a high value to views you don't see as, well, valuable?

Anonymous said...

Hope this cuts the muster:

For all the liberal slime and this includes a long laundry list of dead homosexuals of aids etc, murderers, rapists, pc democrats, thieves, arsonsists, sicko perverts and all the other weirdos, pagans, beastalitists, cannibals, human sacrificialists, non-believers, atheists, muslims, unconverted jews, fascists, communists, socialists, taoists, buddists, hinduists, newspaper columnists, media pervs, slothful, etc. etc.

**Sincerely from the heart may you and yours have a real nice time burning in that big lake of fire hell for eternity.

Anonymous said...

That's the FB page. Perspective is wonderful thing.

jayne said...

Anon 10:24,
My heart aches for you. I have serious trouble understanding how you can lump all of those things under the label of "liberal slime." I keep trying to make sense of it, but there is no sense to it.
Your cold judgment of others is sickening, and my faith in humanity is lessened by comments like yours. It's a slippery slope, Anon 10:24, and pretty soon you're going to run out of people to hate and be left with only yourself.

tommy tomlinson said...

10:24, thank you for reading this story. Your comment is the perfect example of why we need it.

Anonymous said...

Good conservatives agree that was a focused well thought out highly intelligent thought provoking post. Libs hate heaven so whats wrong with wishing them to enjoy hell eternally? Dang. Seriously its gonna be x-treme hot down there guys & gals. Even poor Lazarus couldnt give the rich man a tiny drop of water on his tongue due to the "great gulf" separation. Once it over and done its too late.

Suggested reading: Dantes Inferno or Constantines Book.

Unknown said...

When I am in love with my vision of community I'll, in fact, destroy community but when I love the people around me I will create community. Dietrich Bonhoffer said this (or something very close to it).

It actually work! I just thought something nice about tailgaters (people who follow too close, not people who eat before the big game).

Anonymous said...

I admire the wide right’s ability to stick to their guns no matter what the facts say. It must be nice to wake up each day in a brand new world where the past is all fuzzy and subjective. Must be a really low stress way to live.

tommy tomlinson said...

Here's a few more I got through email:

I admire women who have had breast implants for their perky optimism.
-- Mary

I don’t like the Taliban, but I realize that I do not know much about them beyond what is abhorrent, such as their treatment of women and their apparent hatred of us. I imagine they hate us because they see us as too materialistic, too driven by pleasure and convenience. They probably do not understand us any more than I understand them. I admire their adherence to principles that are old, to traditions that give them direction. We, on the other hand, tend to be more practical, picking up new things that make things easier for us.
-- Max

About people who feel they are "saved" more than the rest of us: I admire their strength of conviction and their drive to help the rest of us
see the world the way they see it.
-- Les

Pastor Nancy said...

Recently I returned to my birthplace of Albuquerque, New Mexico to be a part of a family reunion. I went mostly to spend time with my mom, my brother, “John,” and his wife, “Denise.”
I knew I was with a bunch of redneck relatives when:
• there were more pick-ups than cars;
• during our first bit of free time we drove straight to the Cowtown Boot Shop so cousin Jimmy could get a new pair o’ boots while in the big city;
• Jimmy, Andy, Raul and Jane’s belt buckles all weighed more than three pounds.
• my mother entertained all the crowd with the story of the time she shot her gun to scare off a dog and it ricocheted around the car port.

I had a blast with my redneck relatives; they are Sarah Palin proud of who they are and though there are several alcoholics in the crowd, there’s not a dumb one in the mix. We had Ph.D.s, pharmacists, Physician’s Assistant’s, engineers specializing in alternative energy, artists, plenty of really good story tellers and all are veteran riders and ropers. They were not at all shy about expressing their religious and political viewpoints and I spent an amazing amount of time deftly changing the subject in order to stave off the kind of conversations that would have left my mother embarrassed about having raised such a radical child WAY out of step with the rest of the family, instead of being proud of her preacher daughter.

If we weren’t blood relatives, these are not people I would work to spend time with. We don’t hold the same beliefs about the Bible and God’s work in the world; most would be appalled at the Open and Affirming United Church of Christ congregation I pastor; and most held Barak Obama in very low regard.

My brother and his wife are so religiously conservative, they do not belong to a church; they are part of a “worshiping community” because churches and denominations are not biblical. Denise wears a head covering at all their worship services and they think I have misunderstood my call from God. God really meant for me to be a teacher (a women’s teacher) not a preacher and pastor. Fortunately, we are not a particularly contentious group of folk – so we just don’t talk about those kinds of things – what we talk about instead is how and where we see God at work in our daily lives.

Tommy has put out a challenge for Charlotteans to share one good thing about a group we don’t much cottin to – so in that vein – I want to tell you where I hold John and Denise in highest regard. They are both hard working, well employed folks: John is an ER nurse and Denise a special ed teacher. They have no children. They have spent their lives and their money taking caring of others. They regularly work with a church’s soup kitchen, they go to Juvenile Hall and teach, they are involved in mission trips into Mexico and most recently Haiti. Because they have now lived in their home for over 20 years and it’s completely paid for, they began to search for other tax breaks that would make sense. They made the decision many well-employed folks make – they decided to buy a second home.

But here’s the key difference – Instead of a place near the coast, they bought a two bedroom condo unit in a building three blocks from their home, so they could give a young, single mother with three children a place to call her own. They are this woman’s lifeline and family. They do childcare and rearrange their lives running carpool so she can work and begin to stabilize her life. I am proud to have my family extended by association with this young woman who might show up at the Thanksgiving table or who might run off with yet one more man promising more than he will ever deliver.

John and Denise have set a banquet for the lost, the last, and the least – and it’s worth my time to change the topic from a group hostility toward the immigrant to the manifestation of the very real love of Christ extended to one of God’s beloved who also happens to be Hispanic. Loving the goodness of my redneck relatives is just not hard work for this left-wing liberal.