Waking up to bad news, part one: What is real conversation?

My morning began this way:
Husband:  Did you read about the shooting in Aurora last night?  At least 12 people are dead.  They were at the theater for the midnight showing of Dark Knight Rises.
Me:  NO!

I jumped online and scanned the Twitters and soon linked to a New York Times article (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/21/us/colorado-mall-shooting.html?pagewanted=all) and an NPR report (http://www.npr.org/2012/07/20/157089964/14-dead-in-auro-colo-theater-shooting) to learn all about it.

As I waded through tweets and posts about grief, responsibility, presidential campaign interruptions and parental angst/gratitude about their teens (mine included) who were attending the premier across the country, I came across an angry tweet from a pastor friend which compelled me to modify and retweet (to protect his/her privacy).  I should have realized I was jumping smack in the middle of a ferocious troll feeding frenzy which is horrifyingly virulent any time somebody mentions our precious constitutional rights – in particular the ones pertaining to guns.  Here’s how it unfolded:

I tweeted:  He didn’t act alone. A policy that lets ppl buy automatic rifles & all of us who allow “2nd amendment” claims r co-conspirators

New Twitter Follower (NTF) responded:  @jazzpastord [my Twitter handle] that’s crap, we have 2nd Amendment rights. Was it wrong what he did? YES!!!!! Should we loose [sic] our rights? NO!!!!!

I responded:  As a child of hunters in a family of hunters who learned how to shoot at a young age I say: NOBODY needs automatic weapons. NOBODY

NTF:  Maybe, maybe not, but the moment someone else decides that for someone else, freedoms is gone [sic], and you can’t argue with that.

ME:  I can & I do. We decide 4 each other all the time. It’s how USA wks. The thing where nobody tells us what to do is anarchy.

NTF: Even if it violates our constitutional freedoms? Please! What a joke. Look, I’m not gonna argue with u like a politician.

ME:  Block.  (Twitter’s way of preventing more posts from the follower in question)

Once I realized we were talking around each other, I decided to stop. NTF was not hearing me and I didn’t want to listen to NTF.  We weren’t contributing much of value to a hostile and fearful world with this kind of talk, and neither of us was truly open to the other’s views.  So rather than continue what was really a parallel diatribe, with more anger than I care to admit, I backed out.  I was angry because I recognized the futility in trying to convince NTF they were wrong.  It was a no-win situation for me so I prevented the conversation from continuing.

Through the morning, as I listened to talk show commentators and callers, as I continued to monitor the Twitters, I am coming to a more nuanced understanding of my anger and the beginnings of some new understanding of how many of us, particularly the entitled and empowered treat each other when we disagree.  That interchange between me and NTF wasn’t problematic because of the content.  It was problematic because I was so convicted by my own views that I couldn’t listen and I wasn’t willing to set aside my own position to truly hear what NTF was saying.

Like one of my philosophical heroes, Hans-Georg Gadamer (and perhaps Heidegger and Aristotle before him), I struggle with what it means to be a friend, what it means to be in true conversation with someone.  It occurs to me (not for the first time and likely not for the last) that many of my “interactions” (read arguments) are not truly conversational.  I am challenged by Gadamer’s premise that “we cannot stick blindly to our own fore-meaning about the thing if we want to understand the meaning of another…The important thing is to be aware of one’s own bias, so that the text (in my case, the tweet) can present itself in all its otherness and thus assert its own truth against one’s own fore-meanings.” (Gadamer, Truth and Method, p. 268-9).

Maybe that’s where I’ll begin next time.  I hope so.

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