The Responsibility for the Words We Use
I had a brief visit in the office this past Monday morning from Heidi Thompson, the West End woman whom Pinehurst police arrested last week and charged with stealing three campaign signs that oppose Amendment One.
I shook her hand and welcomed her back to my office to sit down and talk.
Before I could offer her a cup of coffee, Mrs. Thompson became quite emotional and angry about the content — and public comments — we’d had online the prior few days regarding her, her beliefs, her position, and her family. Mrs. Thompson didn’t stay long, although she was welcomed to come back and talk. I let her express her emotion and anger and move on.
Now, Mrs. Thompson and I found ourselves on the opposite sides of the Amendment One issue. We also view her act of taking signs differently. She felt justified; I feel taking property not belonging to you is theft and, where it’s tied to political speech, a violation of the First Amendment.
Before you heap either praise or scorn on this column, know that I stand with Mrs. Thompson in saying the dialogue on this matter had grown out of control. It isn’t dialogue if each side is shouting and not hearing what the others have to say. What, you don’t want to hear what the others have to say? Fine, but don’t expect, then, to get listened to.
See, I respect Mrs. Thompson’s right to express her views and work for the causes she believes in. Just because I don’t agree with all those positions doesn’t mean she shouldn’t have the right. I also respect the positions of her many supporters, as well as her opponents.
Notice the word I’m using here? “Respect.” Agreeable people can disagree agreeably, without spewing hate-speech and trying to denigrate the other. And no, use of Bible scripture to back your view doesn’t give your position any greater weight than the opposite side, which can also be supported elsewhere in the Bible.
In these first couple of days since Tuesday’s vote and the amendment’s passage, the dialogue has been dulled a bit by reality and the resignation of some.
But still, I’ve seen commentary on both sides that does little more than poke at the embers of this division and rekindle the flames. Amendment opponents speak of bigotry, religious zeal, narrow-minded backwoods behavior. Supporters talk of a God victorious, of homosexuals laid low, marriage protected, families glorified.
Is this the real us? Are we really an implacable community filled with hate and intolerance? Are we really incapable of shaking the hand of the one who disagrees with us? Are we really modeling the right behaviors for our children?
Wednesday, May 9, came and, truly, nothing had changed in our ordinary, everyday lives. We still rose in the morning, fed our kids, watered the tomatoes, took the Traffic Circle to work, bought groceries, got to our kids’ baseball and soccer games, and talked to neighbors and co-workers who don’t always think as we do.
A few blocks down Broad Street from my Southern Pines office, I walked through the doors of the Moore County Literacy Council and talked a bit with Susan Sherard, the executive director there. No one inside was talking about Amendment One, and no one asked how I stood on it. Inside those offices, a clutch of tutors and their students sat shoulder-to-shoulder, bent over whatever flat table space they could find.
They weren’t talking about hate-speech. They were talking parts of speech. They weren’t talking about words that divide. They spoke of conjunctions.
We all take reading and writing for granted. They are such liberating skills, we fail to see just how far they let us roam — or, some might say, stray.
Amendment One is over. For better or for worse, it’s part of the state Constitution unless — or until — a court says otherwise. But how we feel about that shouldn’t change how we treat or interact with each other. We’re not all going to be of one mind on this or any other issue, and that’s OK.
What’s not OK is to let the leverage of those differences drive a wedge between us. Let’s all realize what builds community and what destroys it.
May 8 is behind us. May there be reconciliation, not reconstruction.
John Nagy is editor of The Pilot. Contact him at (910) 693-2507 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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