Message from a Big Person

In the past few years, I’ve read a lot about how the proliferation of media – especially online – is balkanizing us.  Instead of giving us access to more information and a broader range of perspectives, we are self-selecting sources of information and groups of people who mirror our already-held beliefs and values.

News of this disturbs me because I think one of the greatest strengths of globalization and the internet is their ability to break down barriers and make us more understanding of others’ concerns, feelings, values and perspectives.  On an increasingly interconnected planet, we need to understand each other more, not less.

My experiences on Xanga have sometimes illustrated this balkanization: some people seem really unwilling to hear different perspectives and their responses are more defensive (or offensive, really!) than thoughtful, more attagonistic than trying to understand.

That’s why I want to acknowledge that in the entry I wrote two weeks ago about California’s proposition 8, in the midst of a lot of back and forth, there were several people who really rose above the fray and were able to disagree and debate ideas without resorting to insults and invectives.

Several people contacted me privately and had many encouraging words.  Some of them agreed with my position that proposition 8 is wrong and should be defeated.  Others disagreed with me but shared messages of respect and appreciation for the opportunity to have a dialogue on the issue.  And others shared with me how their opinion had changed because of the opportunity to hear other perspectives.  Here is one such message:

I have been thumbing through your site and am really blown away.  My wife and I have never really given major thought to the whole gay marriage (sorry if that sounded so blunt).  I do like to think that I am an open minded person, and my wife as well.  She is a very religious person but day by day living here in California acceptance and new ideas are always around us, and in the same subject we asked ourselves tonight that if we were on y’alls end of the stick and someone told us that we could not get married even though we love each other, and ultimately it is an expression legally of how we feel about each other… I also have really been intrigued with a lot of your other writings and would like to add you as a friend.  I wanted to send you this message to ask you if that would be alright, since I did come onto your site and threw a lot of bigotry out in the first couple of lines. I would like to apologize for not being open to the subject for debate from the get go, the proposition does not affect me or do me any harm, I know that you should be able to express yourself just as my wife and I do. Thank you for replying to my silly posts and I would love to hear more from you.

It take a mighty big person to be open to new ideas, to challenge his or her own beliefs, and to evolve his or her world view.  Speaking from my own perspective, I know exactly how hard being open-minded is.  Many times I fail despite my attempts.  So I have tremendous respect for people who are big enough and confident enough to recognize the opportunity to learn and grow from others.

To all of you who participated in that discussion, or who have otherwise promoted civilized, thoughtful debate in the virtual and real worlds, thank you for your contribution to dialogue and understanding.  And thank you for being a big person.


29 thoughts on “Message from a Big Person

  1. I am so glad you posted this Chris. Makes you feel good doesn’t it? Like as if ” God is in His Heaven and all’s right with the world” ( Walt Whitman: Leaves Of Grass.)
    I always say, the good always attracts others who are good. This is one such example.

  2. I don’t buy it. The people who were self selecting before the Internet are just as self-selecting now. Closed minded people will always be closed minded!

  3. Just wanted to say that message brought a smile to my face. I believe that people fundamentally want to do good and be seen as doing good; it is only by appealing to that innate desire, individual by individual, step by step, that we can collectively move forward as a society.

  4. But we have to keep working on the understanding of others’ viewpoints, beliefs, visions. Basic is seeing the individual first since we are all first an individual. Even within the larger group, individuals have their own viewpoint, belief, vision and it may differ to some degree to the “group” mentality. Thinking individuals seldom agree completely with the “group” thinking in my experience. Situtations become worrisome where individuals stop thinking on their own and totally adopt a group without questioning the viewpoint, belief, vision.

  5. Haven’t been on Xanga for a long time. After feeling secured that my candidate will get to the White House, I am now focusing on Proposition 8, even though I live in NYC. It is nice to see that you had something going right here as well.I would like to point out that the New York State Senate is going to turn Democratic this election. When that happens, you can expect that the empire state will embrace gay marriage very soon.Meanwhile, here is a blog entry by a MORMON friend who is questioning the church position on Proposition 8.

  6. @ongkun – How are you doing?  Just yesterday I was browsing through my subscriptions list and wondered where you had disappeared to.
    Thanks for sending the link.  It is a poignant post and your friend is right: one of these days we will look back and scratch our heads in confusion, wondering what the big fuss over gay marriage was all about.  Will we have the right answers to the questions the next generation asks about our involvement in the fight for equality?

  7. @CareyGLY – I think it is easier to be self-selecting now.  For example, thirty years ago, the three nightly newscasts offered a generally balanced view of things.  Now, you can tune into Fox if you are a conservative and get everything through that prism.  There’s Air America for the liberals, etc.

  8. yes, opened minded-ness goes both ways. sometimes the supposedly open-minded liberals seem to be the opposite, esp when it comes to people of faith, calling them backwards, rednecks or jesus freaks. c’mon liberals, be the bigger person and stop the name calling!

  9. I’ve only read your posts from my subscriptions and didn’t want to open the posts for fear of reading such hateful or poorly written comments. As I drove through the streets of Irvine, California to tutor my students today, there were a couple very large/busy intersections I drove through. On all four corners were handfuls of residents holding yellow Yes on 8 signs. It made me very sad to see and hear drivers honking in support. Living in my southern California bubble, I sometimes forget how ignorant some parts of the world are. And even in one of the safest, most educated, and most affluent cities with ethnic diversity in the nation… there are still “those people”. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. Voting is based on these opinions, which can sometimes be clouded by emotion and judgment. Hopefully in the end, logic and reason shall overcome. P.S. I have a pork and religion analogy that pertains to this that perhaps I will write about later.

  10. @generasianx – That’s very true.  Open-mindedness doesn’t come from being in a certain spot on the political spectrum.  I’m always very nervous when people I know make blanket generalizations, whether it be conservative people about gays, gay people about Christians, or Christians about Muslims. 

  11. @minhaners – I suspect that most opinions are clouded by emotion.  Seems to be human nature.  I’d love to hear the pork and religion analogy.  Any analogy with food is a good analogy, if you ask me!  (See, my opinion is clouded by my hunger…)  Ha ha ha…

  12. Being open minded is one of the things i love about you my friend. I still remember the Vietnamese cat fish soup you tried for the first time in high school. Now if people are only as open to trying different perspectives as willingly as they are trying new foods, we’d have a lot more mind expanding dialogue.

  13. To me it is a simple matter of referring to history on slavery, the civil rights movement, and womens suffrage, to realize that “yes on 8” is expressing the same bigotry. Do people actually think that all these prejudices were justifiable? If not, what really justifies this?Why haven’t we learned by now???@dynamiqvision – Thanks for making that point! It speaks to me.

  14. @doiturselfer – The best analogy, though, is to miscegenation – inter-racial marriage.  The exact same arguments were used by those opposed to inter-racial marriage as are being used today by those opposed to gay marriage:
    It would undermine the sanctity of marriages
    It is against the good lord’s teachings
    It goes against the natural order of things
    etc, etc, etc…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s