Civil War documentary, bumper stickers, boobs, explosions, and “it’s complicated."

I have been watching the remastered documentary “The Civil War” by Ken Burns. Its 10 hours long so I will give you the spoilers here, THE SOUTH LOST and IT WAS ABOUT SLAVERY. There, I’ve just committed the sin I came to complain about, did I lose anybody? WHY DO WE HAVE TO SHOUT BUMPER STICKER SLOGANS AT EACH OTHER? WHY CANT WE HOLD VIEWS AND OPINIONS THAT DON’T FIT ON BUMER STICKERS. Crap I did it again.

Back to the documentary, It breaks the war down year by year, including the political climate that led up to it. The filmmakers used personal accounts from soldiers, politicians and civilians, from both sides, to give the war a human face. The photographs are haunting, some of them ghastly. I have a whole new appreciation for the signifigance of the sunken road at Shiloh that I walked as a kid. It is presented sympathetically and without political agenda. I wonder if such a documentary could be made in today’s political climate? We seem to have lost sight of the fact that nothing exists in a vacuum, and most of all we have stopped listening to, or having tolerance for, any view that does not fit with our own. There seems to be a movement toward hard black and white with no room for gray. Social media thought process demands that our views on any matter fit in a quote over a picture of Morgan Freeman or Sam Elliot or an incredulous baby. Fewer people consume any long form media without boobs and explosions (calm down I love them both too), or at least quotable one-liners. The Civil War documentary was 10 hours long, and was still criticized as not adequately covering every aspect. We as a modern people demand everything be boiled down to a bite size essence that we don’t have to think too much about. 

I am not a man who defines himself by religious or political views.  Other things define me at this point in my life. That doesn’t mean I won’t change over time. I hold the opinion that I don’t have to hold an opinion on every issue. I find the difficult balance between principle and how we respond to ever changing circumstance fascinating. I find the recent trend away from rational conversation alarming.  

My, my I sound like a curmudgeon. It is not my intent to bitch and moan about “people nowadays”, but to offer up an idea for an exercise. Make a regular habit of looking into an opposing point of view with an open mind. Its not as easy as it sounds, especial when it starts with bumper sticker rhetoric. Try to understand why the opposition feels so strongly about their position. You don’t have to agree to develop empathy for their point of view. Whats the worse that can happen? You might have to view people with opinions different than your own as people too? You might have to consider how others came to hold these opinions? You might have to acknowledge the bias that led to your own position? I am not advocating giving up your principles. I am not saying that you need to be knowledgable about every side of every issue, but if you are going to hold a strong enough opinion on an issue to look for arguments, you need to have a better understanding of the opposition than “that’s just stupid”. Be aware that what passes as “fact” could very well be painted with the author’s own bias. Understand that human truth’s can exist outside of fact, and that seemingly contradictory truths can both still be true from a given viewpoint. The historian Shelby Foote made a point in the documentary that despite our nation’s great strength was actually compromise, not a dogged adherence to positions. Compromise starts with conversation, not covering our ears and shouting slogans at each other. Compromise starts with acknowledging common ground (boobs and explosions). As you examine other viewpoints, you just might come to the sticky conclusion that “it’s complicated”. Ain’t everything?

I welcome your comments, but if you shout at me don’t be too disappointed if I don’t shout back.


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