Yes, Tish Harrison Warren, the Anglican priest who writes a weekly column to fill up empty space in the New York Times, has once again proffered a cure for the nation’s ills. It’s trivial and far from new, but at least it doesn’t involve God. The email I got with the column (Ceiling Cat help me, I subscribe) was headed, “Why chatting with your barista could help save America.” In the paper (click on screenshot below), it has a different title:
The entire thesis can be summarized with one of her paragraphs:
To learn how to love our neighbors we need cultural habits that allow us to share in our common humanity. We need quiet, daily practices that rebuild social trust. And we need seemingly pointless conversation with those around us.
By “pointless,” she means “avoiding hot-button issues like politics”. Her notion, which many others have suggested before, is that you can heal divisions between people by getting the “sides” to know each other. If you like or at least are friendly with a political opponent, you’ll find a way to eventually agree on politics.
This simple message, however, is unlikely to heal any divisions—after all, are citizens supposed to wait until they discuss these issues?—or are they supposed to become pals with their barista before bringing them up? Warren dilates at length about her hale-fellow-well-met Texas dad whom everybody loved and nobody hated, for he just cracked jokes and made pleasantries. He didn’t talk politics.
It goes on and on and on, without telling us how, after we’re pals with Trumpies, we can then begin to discuss abortion, the border, the unstolen election and so on.
And so we have the Paper of Record giving us stuff like this:
I see moments of this in my own life. I moved states recently and feel the loss of seemingly unimportant local relationships I’d built where we lived before. I have no idea if my favorite former barista and I shared any political or ideological beliefs. We likely disagree on important issues. But I don’t care. I know he adores his infant niece and I regularly asked how she was doing. He is working to get through grad school, and I found myself genuinely rooting for this person I barely knew.
Each of us is more than the sum of our political and religious beliefs. We each have complex relationships with the people we love. We each have bodies that get sick, that enjoy good tacos or the turning of fall. We like certain movies or music. We laugh at how babies sound when they sneeze. We hurt when we skin a knee. The way we form humanizing, nonthreatening interactions around these things taps into something real about us. We are three-dimensional people who are textured, interesting, ordinary and lovely. . . .
. . . Of course, to heal the deep divisions in our society we need profound political and systemic change. But though we need more than just small talk, we certainly do not need less than that. As a culture, our conversations can run so quickly to what divides us, and this is all the more true online. We cannot build a culture of peace and justice if we can’t talk with our neighbors. It’s in these many small conversations where we begin to recognize the familiar humanity in one another. These are the baby steps of learning to live together across differences.
Yes, and maybe if the Taliban got to know more Afghan women they would eventually allow them to go to school. Maybe if more Texas lawmakers had cake and coffee with pregnant women they would rescind their draconian anti-choice law. When Lyndon Johnson rammed the Civil Rights Bills through the Senate, he didn’t make small talk with the Senators. He used his leverage and power to bring around the Southern opponents.
Yes, we have to be able to discuss things civilly, for then, so they say, consensus will come. That’s what Biden ran his campaign on, and look where it’s gotten him.
How much longer will the NYT torture us this way?
12 thoughts on “More anodyne cures for the world’s ills by Reverend Tish Harrison Warren”
I kinda agree with her. Really bitter rancor depends on an inability to see our shared humanity. Because he’s my friend and we share some interests, when my neighbor goes off about how the vaccine is the Mark of The Beast and I am being microchipped by Bill Gates, I am able to laugh and say “Too late! I’ve already been chipped, twice! You can watch me to see what happens.” And we’re still friends.
Is this what they refer to as happy talk. Or maybe once called small talk. After Trump there is really no such thing any longer. If you approach some of these fox news, knuckle draggers where do you engage with this clever conversation. I live right next to some of these folks and the conversation is about as shallow as it gets. You do not discuss politics or religion and mostly just stick with the weather. I do have one neighbor on the other side that I can talk to because they are of similar persuasion. The difference is like night and day.
You have a point. Somehow (it is a mystery to me), I have a friend who is an ardent Catholic and Trump supporter. Just last Friday he told me that he doesn’t believe the vaccine works and that the only reason he got the vaccine was because it would allow him into places that otherwise would not be the case. I tried to explain to him how vaccines work, but he shut me off, stating that he refuses to listen to such explanations. To say the least, I was dumbfounded. Although he knows my politics, he feels perfectly comfortable relating to me a monologue of all the petty woes that beset him. I find this relationship beneficial to me in that it tempers my impulse to view Trump supporters and the religious with contempt. Rather, I now understand that at least some of them are ordinary, decent people whose views on life were warped by forces beyond their control. Perhaps, he feels the same way about me.
You may be able to avoid rancor with your neighbor but will you be careful letting your kids play next door? I would be worried what crazy ideas such a neighbor, or worse their kids, might infect my kids with.
Imagine if she collides into C. Tippett of NPR. It would open up a worm hole spewing puppies and pink cotton candy.
I belong to an online club in an internet game. Fifteen people from different states and countries who have never met. We get together once a day to chat and support each other in the game and in our lives. We’ve done it from close to the start of the pandemic. During the last election cycle, a couple of us commented on some bizarre thing one of the presidential candidates had said that day and it almost broke the club apart. So we don’t discuss politically or culturally sensitive issues at all. We talk about challenges and special moments in our lives and the game and we support each other. Some of the members became my companions in my covid isolated life so I treasure the daily contact. Much as I love a good argument, eschewing conflict has proven to be the best strategy for keeping the club together and maintaining that contact.
Mistrust has become the fundamental roadblock to US unity and progress. It’s a shame that this has happened and shame on those who drove that bus into this ditch. The only way America will be saved is for the trust to be rebuilt. It’s a lot harder to build trust once it’s lost, but simple things like chatting can help a bit, and perhaps this is a necessary element. Hating your adversary out of the room doesn’t get you there. It’s not all up to the political leaders to save us, it takes many minds taking a close look at their approach. I think Tish has an important point.
Strikes me as nice vs. good. The former will get you a social merit badge, the latter a shunning or worse.
Re the failure of religions to serve their traditional purposes, devolving instead into artificially sweetened pabulum: I watched a fascinating interview between Peter Whittle and Tim Stanley concerning the latter’s new book on traditions. He made the interesting point that the Anglican church has given up using the traditional format of funerals, allowing the mourners to design their own ceremony at a time when they are probably least able to make decisions. So no familiar hymns, none of the expected words from the vicar, but instead a ‘celebration of life’ when what we want most is a sanctioned way to cry and to mourn. Even if the beliefs are nonsense, the familiar rites can serve a purpose for the desperately grief-stricken. There were other insights too, such as the concept of the ideal enlightenment man being no longer able to appreciate full immersion into local small scale society, by being so goddam cosmopolitan. Worth 30 minutes of your time:
“Yes, we have to be able to discuss things civilly, for then, so they say, consensus will come” – Absolutely. We have to discuss things in a civil manner, but when that gets nowhere decisions have to be made using the democratic mechanisms at our disposal and in accordance with the constitution. (The last six words are lacking in the Texan approach to abortion; I’ve no idea how much civility was on display before the egregiously unconstitutional legislation was passed.)
Not sure how “We absolutely” became ” Absolutely. We”, but strange things often happen when I backspace below the line in amending my comments before I press “Post Comment”. For clarity, I agree with the first half of the sentence “Yes, we have to be able to discuss things civilly”, but have strong reservations about the second.
Old Time Religion was pretty clear, there were the Saved and the Damned, no salvation outside the Church or alternatively, Salvation through Faith in Christ Only. Heresy is a perversion of the will, not the mind, so there is no point in arguing with heretics, except to keep the Faithful on the true path.
The world is in the power of the Anti-Christ until the end times, and believers are destined to be on the losing side. It fell upon the Remnant to preserve the True Faith until the Second Coming.
I point this out because there is no “common humanity” in this picture, there are only goats and sheep, and we can’t build a culture of “peace and justice” because Satan and his minions.
Going to a more renaissance view, you have the intellect and the will, and the will drives the intellect (or Man is a rationalizing animal per Heinlein versus Aristotle’s Rational Animal). Multiple wills mean inevitable conflict, as reason will just invent competing rationalizations, and at some point, conflicts will have to be resolved by force or the threat of force.
Secularizing the above, you end up with a friend/enemy distinction and a world of warfare between rival state powers and ideologies in existential conflict. There may not be an Anti-Christ, but balance-of-power calculations mean when one is strong, the others line up against the one out of fear for survival. Christ may not return but the world may perish in a large nuclear strike, in which only the truly meek will inherit.
Reverend Warren embodies the sentiment that all men should be paid for existing, and no man must pay for his sins. We know how that ends. . .