I have a five year-old daughter, which means that on occasion I get a dose of irrationality in my day. Usually it's nothing I can't handle, but from time to time Ella busts out something that is so cosmically frustrating that it makes me want to grind my teeth to the gums. The sad part is that she doesn't know how much this particular tactic annoys me, and gets this surprised look on her face when I finally reach my boiling point.
No - I take that back. The sad part is that a five year-old can make me reach my boiling point by just being five. But that's the beauty and agony of parenthood: kids are kids. They're not minature adults with the capacity to reason and think and intuit. They're only learning how to take information in, and thus crave as much of it as they can. Sure, they're also learning a bit at a time how to filter that information and make rational decisions, but for the most part they're just trying, literally, to take it all in.
Which brings me back to Ella's little finishing move, the one that paralyzes me almost instantaneously:
Now, I'm not talking about her being distracted by something and my words just slipping past her radar undetected. Neither am I talking about her death-of-a-thousand-whys maneuver.
I'm speaking specifically of those instances in which she continues with her line of five year-old reasoning unabated without recognizing or responding to my line of reasoning.
Just thinking about it makes me want to scream.
If you're a parent, you've been there:
"Son, you need to pick up your clothes. It's time for bed."
"I'm playing ball, daddy."
"Well, it's time for bed, so that means it's time to clean up. Let's get a move on."
"But daddy - I'm playing ball."
"I know that, son. I can see the ball. But again: it's time for bed. Time to clean up."
"But I'm playing ball!"
"Ok - obviously you're not getting what I'm saying. It is time for ball to be finished. You need your rest, or else you get cranky, so we need to put away your toys, go to the bathroom, brush your teeth, put on you pajamas, get into the bed and go to sleep. Now."
"But what about ball? I'm in the middle of a game."
"The game can wait until tomorrow, son. The ball isn't going anywhere."
"But I'm playing..."
"Son, get up, put the ball in the toy room right now, and go to your bathroom. This is your last warning."
"BALL. AWAY. NOW!"
You know how it goes. Your reasonable parental request suddenly devolves into a mirror image of your kid's childish denial. Heck, you might even throw in a good foot stomp to really make it official.
Then, in the end, despite the fact that you won (usually), you feel like the world's biggest idiot for acting the way you did.
Actually, you wonder if you really won at all. Sure you got your way, but at what cost? Now your kid knows that being an obdurate jackwad can lead to getting your way. Great rhetorical victory there, dad.
And even if you don't have kids, you too can experience this phenomenon. Don't believe me? Check out the comment thread and . Go ahead. Read through. I'll wait.
Now, as a matter of full disclosure, I happen to not only be a Christian, but a full-time Baptist youth pastor.
But that doesn't mean I can't offer up some observations on the public discourse on matters of faith and religion.
Honestly, when I read both of Ben Cathey's articles I didn't think anything of them. The story he was addressing was one rooted specifically in Christian theology, specifically eschatology, and whom better to speak to those issues than a Christian minister? In my mind, it was an expert in the field offering commentary, no different than a science reporting writing about a new biological breakthrough in the lab.
So when I got to some of the comments, the ones that skipped over the content of the article and went straight to the ad hominem arguments, I felt a familiar urge to grind my teeth. I felt a little burble in my stomach and a sweat bead on my forehead.
The anger, however was two-pronged: as a Christian, I'm used to the devolution of any article on faith or science. See it all the time whenever someone like Christopher Hitchens or Ravi Zacharias posts an article. The haters always come out. Annoying, but it happens. So I wasn't completely surprised that it happened on Ben's posts.
But I was dismayed that it happened here. I've read lots of the pots in this particular Patch, and have always been pleased with the geniality and cordiality shown by the commenters. So I was angered by the intrusion of a familiar vitriol into what I had considered a safe place. I felt violated. Frustrated.
I felt like sending someone to timeout.
But you can't do that with adults. You can only reason, or try to reason, or you can let discussions dissolve into standoffs that might end with a knockdown. Sometimes, neither way really works.
And that's sad to me. We spend our children's formative years trying to instill in them virtues of discourse - be polite, say what you mean, listen to the other person's point of view, consider what's being said, think it through, respond with kindness - and then, when they've finally grown up, we release them into a world that, all too often, functions no differently than the one they lived in when they were five. Our teaching was for naught - instead of giving them coping mechanisms, we've only given them tools to frustrate them.
It's no wonder some kids don't want to grow up.
What's the answer? I don't know. The easy thing would be for every person to hold their beliefs sacred, and hold the beliefs of others equally sacred (you know, the whole Bill of Rights concept). But the thing about our most sacred beliefs is that they are sacred because we believe them to be right. And beliefs that are contrary to our own must, by definition, be wrong. And when something is wrong, we've all been taught, we're supposed to speak out against it.
So I get the ferver and fanaticism on both sides. But that doesn't make it pretty.
I guess the answer is to just try and make a difference once person at a time. To be gracious in your private conversations and leave the public forum to those who most want their voice heard. Honestly, from my experience, people are influenced by the public but changed by the private.
And if we still can't make it work, then perhaps we all deserve a timeout.