Focus on the Family by Jim Daly

Learning to Be Civil in a Disagreeable Society

Q: Every time I turn around, there's another example in the news or on social media about people fighting over issues of race, politics, religion, moral beliefs, etc. I'm beginning to lose hope that there can ever be peace in our land. What are your thoughts?

Jim: It's clear that America is deeply divided, on many fronts. But a lot of that conflict is driven by an idea that's fundamentally untrue: the perception that disagreeing with someone means you disrespect them as a person -- or even hate them. It doesn't have to be that way.

Beliefs can be polarizing. But differing perspectives don't have to cause us to lose our sense of dignity for one another. That means we can vigorously defend what we believe, but we can do it with civility and respect.

The key is grasping and applying a core value that's guided our nation for over two centuries: a person's value is the result of qualities beyond what we see at first glance. This is why my Christian faith emphasizes the profound worth of every human being. People don't deserve dignity because they're the right height, shape, color, political persuasion or any other label. All human beings have immeasurable worth simply because it's endowed them by their Creator.

Our conversations about societal issues have to start -- and continue -- in that context. And it works. Some of the people I consider to be my friends are activists who fight for ideas that directly oppose my deeply held beliefs. We disagree over almost every political and social issue. But we've still been able to build genuine friendships, because we show one another respect even though we hold radically differing opinions. None of us believes our opposing views have to turn into animosity or hatred toward one another. That civility allows us to find common ground.

Q: Our 14-year-old daughter was invited to an overnight video marathon at a friend's house. The plan was to binge-watch a series of horror films that we wouldn't ordinarily view in our household. We chose to not let our daughter attend. But when I spoke with the friend's mom, her reply was "Whatever -- it's only a movie." Do you think we were too restrictive?

Bob Waliszewski, Director, Plugged In: I'll admit I'm not a fan of the horror film genre or its recent spin-off commonly called torture porn. Because of that, it would be easy for me to quickly answer your question with a "you did the right thing -- case closed." But the question is best answered in a bigger context of what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable films. I like to boil down the "in-bounds vs. out-of-bounds" dilemma to a few simple questions to always ask (and train your daughter to always ask).

The first is this: Will watching this film (or watching this TV show, listening to this song, playing this video game) make me a better person? Will it encourage me to be more honest, compassionate, generous and noble? Will it challenge me to care about others more, make a greater difference in this world, and better respond to life's trials?

If the answer to the above questions is yes, there's still another factor to consider. Even if the film is inspiring, encouraging and uplifting overall, does it contain some content that would be counterproductive to my overall mental/spiritual health?

I say all this because it's arguable that a few "horror" movies might fit the bill. But again, the place to start is not just films of this type, but to put all movies -- no matter the genre -- to the tests above. PluggedIn.com provides detailed content reviews to help you with this process.

Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.

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