Trust me, we’ve all seen it. An Olympic swimming race – the top competitors from around the world. They’ve competed to come to the Olympics. Then they’ve competed to get into the finals. Now they are swimming for gold. Pundits debate the merits of this top contender and that top contender, and everyone knows that the gold will belong to one of the two.
The race starts. It’s nose-to-nose for the two favorites. But inevitably, there’s a few who lag behind. They can’t keep up throughout the race. They finish painful seconds behind the gold and the silver and the bronze.
As I watch the races, I think about those swimmers – the ones with no hope. To get to this moment, an Olympic race, they have won many races. They have been the favorites excitedly talked about by pundits. They are the best in their country, and that is no small accomplishment.
They didn’t change. They didn’t dive into the Olympic pool and suddenly lose all their skills. It’s simply that when swimming with one group of swimmers, they are the fastest, fiercest swimmers. When swimming with another group, they simply can’t keep up.
I’ve been thinking about that and the Chick-fil-A debate. Because, you see, I’m a lot like those Olympians.
In some groups of friends, I am the most liberal person in the group. In other groups of friends, I am the most conservative. Both are uncomfortable for me because I know my position on the Chick-fil-A issue (and no, I don’t care to share it here), and my position is actually moderate, at least I think so.
There is a lot of discussion about the extreme sides of this debate. There is an expectation that people are the top two swimmers or the bottom, when in fact, I think most of us are somewhere in the middle.
It’s easy to idolize the people you view as the front runners and trash the people you view as the late finishers – the people you most agree with and the people you least agree with. Some people will see me as the golden child – the one at front of the race. Others will see me as lagging behind, backwards, from the country whose best was not good enough.
Because I have a diverse group of friends, I have heard a lot of opinions. Many of them have underlying anger or sanctimony or pride. I know these are important issues. They hit us at our core beliefs and values. But I hope that as we answer difficult questions, we will have grace. That we would debate issues with love, not hate. That like the Olympians, we would all go back to our corners of the world better for the experience of being in a pool of people so different from us. (I’m not advocating us all becoming lukewarm in our beliefs. I think we can talk in a spirit of mutual betterment. We might not agree, but we may realize that we’re less front runners and less late-comers than we all thought).
I’d rather the pundits not talk about me. I don’t want to be the center of their attention. I want to build relationships.