FEELING THE TEDIUM
Tedium: the quality of being weary, irked, bored… (from the fat Random House dictionary)
I began suffering a full onslaught of tedium the day after the election. Even a four-day suspense over who won would not cure it. I don’t understand. I love politics; I love history; and this election will go down in the history books as one of the most incredible of all. Over these past five years, the escalating hostility between Trump-land and Aghast-land has been caffeine to me. I have kin and skin in this fight. How can I possibly be afflicted with tedium?
In times like these, there are two books I trust: 1) The Holy Bible and 2) my fat dictionary. In this case, the fat dictionary has been more enlightening.
It seems I have an intolerance for any “dispute” that shrivels into a “quarrel.” But happy day, a dispute that progresses instead into a “collaborative argument” is not only medicinal for me, it is restorative and invigorating. Thinking logically, therefore, the cure for my tedium is to filter out all quarreling and embark on quest for some collaborative arguing.
Dispute: A disagreement based on a lack of commonality. In every relationship, we have areas of commonality …and areas where we lack commonality: race, age, language, education, gender, diet, culture, occupation, perspective, life-experience, family, religion, anxieties, dreams, myths, morals, entertainment… Disputes are part of life. Therefore, so that we are not overwhelmed and disoriented by a buffet of diversity, we all have a built-in immunity that shields us from ideas and practices that are strange. A dispute occurs when we contest (at first) those matters that are alien to us. We can, of course, override that repulsion toward the odd and actually find ourselves pondering, risking, experimenting, and even adopting ideas and behaviors that were once anathemas. But a dispute is the activity of arguing against what is unpalatable.
Quarrel: A dispute that destroys friendships. Quarrels are peevish, fueled by insecurities and grievances, lured by phantoms and conspiracies, immune to reality, prelude to an obsessive-compulsive disorder.
List all the good things you can about Mr. Trump, Mr. Schumer, Mr. McConnell, Ms. Pelosi… they are, nevertheless, all quite disordered. I listen to all of them quite a bit, and I’ve heard almost nothing but quarrels from any of them. And that goes for FOX news and CNN as well.
Quarrels are tedious, even if we favor one side or the other. There is no end to them. Even a decisive election cannot end them. And an electoral win of 306-232 IS decisive. A five million plus vote margin is stunning. There is no credible evidence for fraud, even according to Republican election officials and judges. Yet quarrels do not end. Nearly two weeks after the election, the garbage from the White House continues. And progressives will never move on, even though one of their most quarrelsome organizations is oxymoronically called “Move On.”
And so I suffer from tedium.
The cure starts with identifying every quarrelsome person and news medium …and then quarantining myself from them. As a pastor, however, I cannot disassociate from everyone who is quarrelsome. And so I use my influence and independence to steer my interactions into non-quarrelsome areas.
But even with such stern abstinence, I am not fully cured of my tedium. For that, I need large and healthy doses of collaborative argument.
Collaborative argument: seeks out different ideas and then makes them wrestle. It traffics in logic and rationality. It does not become defensive. It maintains curiosity even when offended. It insists on evidence. It respects rules of debate. Science and history, while always tentative in their truths, are respected and authoritative. Collaborative argument always does the math. The goal of collaborative argument is to bring opposing ideas together in order to create synthesis and synergy. Paradox is honored. Humility is essential. Audacity and assertion are part of the process. So are inquiry and retreat and conversion.
In other words, disputes are part of any rich and interesting life. Even if we turn the news entirely off, we still experience disputes (a lack of commonality) in our churches, marriages, families, and friendships. It is possible to elevate those disputes into collaborative arguments. The alternative is letting a dispute shrivel into a quarrel.
Few people seem to know the art of collaborative argument. It isn’t enough for me to avoid quarrelsome people. It isn’t enough for me to confine myself to people who think like me. Even some of my conversations with like-minded friends can be merely quarrelsome. We may not quarrel with each other (since we tend to agree on politics) but we actually do nothing but reinforce each other’s quarrelsome approach to politics… by agreeing on everything.
I’d like to lead a workshop on collaborative argument, get some input from my friends, have a good argument about my thesis. This constant quarreling is a demonic virus all of its own kind. The infection has spread everywhere. Important matters are before us, but we are afraid to talk to one another, even in such sanctuaries as our churches and friendships.
The election is over. Donald Trump is just being quarrelsome. It’s getting tedious. The numbness is setting in. Can we change the subject away from his tedious antics and have a real argument for a change?