I like mysteries. A good “cop-drama” or “murder-mystery” is the staple of my television amusement. Whether it is an NCIS episode, Law and Order, Blue Bloods, or the plethora of new legal dramas that pepper my DVR menu- I like dramas. At the same time, when I watch the current “news” channels or peruse much of what I see on Facebook, my eyes twitch and I begin to sympathize with some of the stars of these made-for-TV crime shows. So, WHY?
In most of the mystery shows, there is a common plot. Someone is murdered…there are one or two likely suspects and a tension as to who the culprit is. Then, 2/3 of the way into the narrative, there is a “plot-twist” and a third option becomes available.
What makes me crazy about most news reports on the cable networks? There is rarely a third option. Either you support (for instance) the President and you’re a person of questionable character that hates women, homosexuals, and the poor; or, you are part of the resistance so you hate law enforcement, accountability and desire for the US to become a socialist state.
This same false dichotomy is often applied to Christian beliefs. A Christian holds a moral objection to homosexuality, abortion, or extra-marital sex and suddenly you must hate all people, desire to institute a theocracy, and want women to become second-class citizens in a patriarchal rerun of Mad Men.
These examples are indicative of the false narrative choices fed by impure motives and rhetorical goals of those who seek to win more than seeking to understand. What if it were possible for there to be a third option?
Is it possible to like SOME of what a person does, disagree with other parts, and still speak and act with genuine respect toward one another? In other words, must I affirm everything about a person if I support some things?
What seems true for most things in life is that we would benefit by looking for a “third option.” Certainly, some ground rules apply, but Patterson et. al. touch on this as it relates to relationships in their book Crucial Conversations. In it, the authors advocate for a culture of trust where dialogue is fostered to improve understanding and promote an environment where parties can work toward a common “win.” That is only possible if we accept that there is a third option to most conflicts, AND finding that third option requires dialogue with charitable assumptions.
We DESPERATELY need this in our culture if we are to experience any meaningful progress. We also need a backbone to require parties to come to the table and accept these ground rules. What I mean is: We should not reward obtuse behavior simply because someone wants to be obtuse. If a Senator becomes an obstructionist simply because he is jockeying for power or didn’t like the President (apart from policy) we, as the People, should usher him out of office.
The behavior we should reward is dialogue. Information is not our enemy but our friend. We learn when we talk. We may not come to consensus, but we might…especially if we are convinced there may be a third way and reject the “fool’s choice” of a two-choice option.