A national conversation on LGBT issues is in progress across the country. But it’s the kind of conversation a person from Appalachia would have with a corporate lawyer in New York, or one between a student in southern California and a homeless youth in Chicago. We all speak in different languages and define the terms we use differently. Such disconnect invariably leads to misunderstanding and a true disbelief of one toward the other’s position.
This divide is most apparent in the current debate about the freedom to choose the object of one’s love. Dissonance in understanding becomes obvious when a person who is strongly opposed to the kind of love that would lead someone to desire marriage with the one they love who happens to be of the same sex, begins putting forth an argument to support their position, but has no idea what the person in favor of gay marriage feels or thinks or truly believes. Based upon his own presuppositions as well as his tenets of faith, he assumes certain things about the other person, things that may or may not be true. Often, these assumed “truths” are not verified, and even when they are, these beliefs are put down, dismissed, or otherwise discredited. This may be, and often is, true of both sides of a conversation on any LGBTQ issue.
The need is not just to have a conversation. The need is to listen actively and seek to explore with integrity the other’s position, to rid one’s self of one’s own position long enough to get inside the other paradigm. But therein lies the problem. It is extremely difficult to replace one conceptual world by another, even if it is only long enough to seek true understanding. To enter another paradigm is nothing short of a metamorphosis and will not happen unless it is driven by people who are agents of change.
The process for change has already been set in motion. The world of 2015 is not the world of 1965. A half century has brought many changes and deeper understanding about the world and life in it. The conversation about same-sex relationships, in all their forms, will not simply return to 1965, much less just go away. Change is inevitable. Engagement is required to shape understanding for today and moving forward.
This conversation cannot allow the natural human resistance to change lessen the passion for change. Awareness is the first step. When people become aware of the issues, even though there is resistance, a germ of possibility has been planted and life-giving reality will emerge. When the limitations and distortions produced by what has been inherited and what is socially and religiously conditioned are challenged, perceptions of reality have been suspended in an unstable state. This unsettledness opens the possibility for different voices to be heard.
I believe this is where we are in our conversations around LGBT issues. Nationally there are two sides facing each other. In the middle is confusion as each side is speaking a different language each of which is rooted in a different paradigm and therefore the communication is not clear. Until we can all speak both languages we will continue to face off against one another rather than link arms in mutual catre to nurture each other.
This is analogues to my language-learning experiences in Southeast Asia. I discovered that I had to use an entirely different Indonesian word for rice depending upon the state it was in: growing in the field (padi), harvested grains (bras), or cooked (nasi). One of these words cannot be substituted for another. In fact, one might be totally misunderstood if they tried such substitution, at least it would be confusing. Imagine someone saying that the farmer had completed planting his cooked rice. The meaning may eventually become clear, but it would take a little time. In the meantime muderstanding would be muddled. Is the farmer coming in from his field, or sitting down to dinner?
As we work together in our conversations about LGBT issues, we need to define our terms carefully and fully. We need to be willing to clear our minds and listen, really listen. As we listen we must not be thinking about what our next statement is going to be, or how wrong the other person’s position is, but rather we must think about what is being said and be ready to ask questions to ferrite out what the other is thinking and not questions to ask to prove them wrong. This might entail the etimology of terms and their historical useage, the motivation of the participants, the context of the conversation, etc. It will require more than a few minutes of talking. Rather it will involve a commitment to a continuing dialogue.
Only when communication is open and honest and people are transparent and vulnerable with each other will there be progress in mutual understanding. And, yes, paradigm shifts will take place and truth will be illuminated.