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January 25, 2013
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Guest column: We must get along with people with different perspectives

For all of us embroiled in the debate about gun control, the words of Jesus who urged us to “Love your enemies” might be too much of a stretch.

But every major spiritual tradition, from Christianity to Islam, contains the equivalent of the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The latter quote seems somehow easier for most of us to stomach, but to my mind they mean the same thing.

These days we’ve fallen into the notion that it’s OK to regard anyone who disagrees with us as our enemy, and everything from Facebook and Twitter to congressional debates confirms that trend.

But let’s get real — those people with whom we disagree are not our mortal enemies, but the very people with whom we live. We need to learn ways of getting along with them. That goal is not only reachable, it’s crucial for our survival as a nation.

Many people grew up in families who hunted and had a strong allegiance to the Second Amendment, the right to keep and bear arms.

There’s nothing much more powerful than the precepts we learned at our parents’ knees, so those ideas are not likely to yield easily to even the most rational and convincing of differing opinions such as some of those suggested by public debate. Even so, part of growing up and thinking for oneself inevitably consists of taking umbrage to some of our parents’ beliefs.

My own upbringing had such a strong influence on me, it wasn’t until I reached adulthood that I was able to realize that I disagreed with parts of it. But there were certain things I learned from my family for which I am thankful, like their never-wavering support of equal rights for African Americans.

I also learned that it was wrong to kill, a concept handed down from my grandfather, who ended his multi-faceted career as a minister in the town of Wallowa. He was also a photographer, and he used to say that he preferred to hunt animals with a camera.

While I still agree with my grandfather’s preference, I’ve come to understand the perspectives of hunters and other gun owners. This has only happened because I have been willing to listen over the past decade to those who have differing opinions.

A year ago I had a conversation with a man at the county recycling center. He’d seen the bumper sticker on my car, “Peace is Possible.” He confronted me, saying that peace was not possible, going on to support his theory with examples of how mankind is intrinsically programmed to war against those with different ideologies. I wished I’d done as a friend of mine did with a man who was part of a flag-waving group opposing the “Women in Black” in front of the Bureau of Land Management grounds on Roseburg’s Garden Valley Boulevard. After they were disbanding, she went up to one of the men and said, “I challenge you to come up with something on which we both agree.” He said without hesitation, “I hate war!” She was stunned.

When I emailed my daughter about my maddening confrontation with the man at the county dump, she simply wrote back, “Sounds like a real character!” The sweet funniness of her reply hit me hard; it was a nonjudgmental and completely peaceful way of responding to his irritating remarks, an attitude I’d not been able to summon up at the time.

There’s been much talk about the newly crowned Miss America saying something to the effect, “You can’t end violence with violence.” While I agree with her, I would put it in a less equivocal way, “You can’t fight hatred with hatred.” I wrote that on every letter I received from NOW, National Organization of Women, which said “Flush Rush” on the envelope, and returned it to sender. I don’t think the National Rifle Association supporters’ stance against gun control necessarily constitutes an advocacy of violence. I take issue with a lot of things that the spokesmen for the NRA have said, but I still think it is important to listen to them.

It’s almost become cliché to say, “We’re all in this together.” But that’s the absolute truth. As we allow ourselves to become more divisive about every issue imaginable, we tend to band together with those who think the same way we do, becoming more entrenched in our shared beliefs. In doing so, we run the risk of losing what we can only have as we unite in mutual, respectful dialogue.

Our neighbors are not our enemies, but just people with different perspectives. If we can’t love them, we can at least get along with them, mostly by finding the common ground we share with them. As the Shaker hymn, “Simple Gifts” says, in doing that, “we’ll come round right.”

Judy Lasswell has been an active member of the Roseburg community for 50 years. She is a retired Umpqua Community College instructor. She earned her master of arts in counseling in 1990. She can be reached at julass@charter.net.

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The News-Review Updated Jan 28, 2013 09:18AM Published Jan 25, 2013 03:34PM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.