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There is something exciting happening in America. Elon Musk taking over Twitter is perhaps the biggest indication that media voices such as Bill Maher and Joe Rogan are not alone. They all agree: the cancel culture and “woke” ideology have gotten out of hand. People are tired of close-minded political correctness.
This is an enormous opportunity for Catholics who know that the Truth is a person, the Word made Flesh, and that he wants a relationship with everyone at every point on the ideological spectrum.
It’s more important now than ever that Catholics both show that we are appropriately open minded and take advantage of the new open-mindedness around us. Our Lord literally told us as his final instructions on earth that it is our job is to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
Here are some rules that can help us get that done.
Rule 1: Don’t Give Up on Anyone.
A friend read The Church and Racism by the Pontifical Commission Justice and Peace and was struck by one thing in particular
The Catholic Church — the largest, most diverse organization in the world — denounced racism in no uncertain terms. But the document didn’t condemn racists.
“In her denunciations of racism, however, the Church tries to maintain an evangelical attitude with regard to all,” it said instead. While the Church is not afraid to denounce instances of racism, “even to those who are responsible for them,” it said, “she also seeks to understand how these people could have reached that point. She would like to help them find a reasonable way out of the impasse in which they find themselves.”
No one deserves to be written off, no matter what their beliefs are. Therefore:
Rule 2: Win Souls, Not Arguments
Remember what St. Paul said: “I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.”
He refuses to dilute the Gospel, but anything else is up for grabs. He will sacrifice any privileges he has; he will follow Jewish customs to avoid scandalizing Jews and adopt Gentile customs to avoid turning them away.
He doesn’t want to advance his personal preferences; he wants to advance the Kingdom of Christ.
Rule 3: Break out of your bubble.
It is a sad fact of 21st century society that we have grown very close-minded. We tend to read only tune in to the media that reinforces our own views, and presents the world as if there are two sides, and only two sides, to every issue.
A wise man who had worked in policy for many years in Washington, D.C., once gave me invaluable advice: “Read your allies with a critical eye and read your opponents with an open mind.”
When you do this you almost always find that your political “enemies” are not that different from you. They probably want the same things as you but have a fundamental disagreement about how to achieve them. The better you understand where they are coming from, the easier you can talk to them.
St. John Paul was a master of this. He didn’t denounce sex because of the sexual revolution; he created the Theology of the Body. Seeing the communist concern for this earth and not the next, he said, ““Let the Spirit descend and renew the face of the earth. This earth.”
Rule 4: Speak to their bubble.
In an argument, like in a physical fight, people tend to respond with one of three reactions: Fight, flight or freeze. They will either argue back, try to end the argument, or seize up and stop listening.
The more you can set them at ease, the better. I always try to remember that even if I am only talking to one person, I have two audiences. First is the person right in front of me, and second is the shadow audience hiding in their head, the voices that whisper “society would say this guy is nuts,” or “your friends will hate you if you agreed with this guy.”
To win them over, you have to address the elephant in their head and say, “A lot of my friends disagree with me, and yours might too. But here’s what I tell them.”
Rule 5: Admit when you are wrong.
Another important way to help your opponent be open minded is to admit when you’re wrong.
The human tendency is to dig in and get defensive. But this results in not only losing the argument but losing your credibility as well. Nobody listens to a person who is not only wrong, but stubbornly insists on their error.
If you want others to admit when you’re right, you have to admit when you’re wrong. We practice this with our kids. When we disagree about something, the person who turns out to be wrong — even dad (especially dad) — has to say, “You were right and I was wrong.” It is really hard to say at first, but gets much easier with practice.
Rule 6: Find a way for your opponent to save face.
The difficulty you have in saying we are wrong is precisely the same difficulty your opponent is facing. The difference might be that, while you have practiced saying “You were right and I was wrong,” they likely haven’t.
So you have to give your opponent a way to save face. If your argument forces them into a place where they have to admit that they are utterly and dangerously wrong, you are likely to find it impossible to win the argument. Help them find a way to salvage some self-respect and still acknowledge the truth you have uncovered.
Rule 7: Build a positive case.
In social media fights, we so often make arguments that demonstrate the evil of our opponents. Each political party has down all the ways the other party has done terrible damage to the nation. What neither party is as good at is explaining what positive things they can do.
Build a positive case for what you believe.
John Paul II was a master at this also.
Look at his encyclicals. The Gospel of Life spends some time criticizing the culture of death – but mostly focuses on building the “culture of life.” Faith and Reason doesn’t criticize those who rely on one or the other, but reveals the positives that arise from uniting the two. The Splendor of Truth isn’t about the tragedy of heresy, but about the beauty of moral coherence.
The final, greatest rule is The Love Rule.
In the end, the most important rule is love. You have to love someone to win them over.
Love can’t be faked; it has to be real. And it can be real: Pray for your opponent, offer sacrifices for them, find ways to serve them.
Most importantly, find the kernel of truth in what they are claiming. No matter how destructive it has become, every wave of public opinion has some basis in truth. Learn from them the aspect of the truth that they are focusing on. Join them in it. Then together, go deeper.
Image: Newtown Graffitti, Flickr.