In the new disorienting social media enforced orthodoxy, there is a refrain that almost everyone has to employ, at regular intervals, and without fail, as one of the last vestigial safeguards against being chucked out on your ear by any hovering mob. It is the innocuous but life saving, “I don’t agree with everything X says, but…” after which disclaimer you may go ahead and retweet or link or quote what X said that you do agree with.
It is a quaint statement to make, and, when I have stopped to peer at it as I have raced along on the highways and byways of internet life, I have always thought, ‘of course, there’s no way to agree with everything that anyone says.’ Indeed, that is the perplexing felicity of being human. To a singular and sometimes isolating degree, I am trapped inside of myself and the things that I think and believe, no matter how much I share them with others, still, like the lines on my finger that Apple now so faithfully reads when I go to unlock my phone, are uniquely peculiar and unlike those of every other human person.
I can’t agree with everything that every other person says, just as no single person out there in the world can possibly agree with everything I think, feel, and believe.
Nevertheless, within the kaleidoscope of human relationships, I am always out there looking for people who do agree with me on all points. Whenever there is a spark of recognition, a moment of agreement about something, I rejoice. But to save my energy, when I am wise, I expend more of myself on those who agree with me the most about major issues—like, Who is God, and What is Good, but really more importantly, How Shall I Rearrange the Furniture. When I find someone for whom almost everything that counts is agreeable, then I may employ that other dubious expression, that we are “like-minded,” or even worse, “of the same Tribe.”
Just as an aside, which really, though, boulsters my point, when did it became a thing to use the word “Tribe” to refer to various groupings of people you gather to yourself in the name of friendship, but really as social media followers? It’s a fascinating word, and one that I have always been extremely wary of in western contexts, and am therefore surprised by the breezy cheerfulness with which it is bandied about.
Anyway, “I don’t agree with everything X says, but…” is all that is left as a way of engaging with the ideas, thoughts, and feelings of other people, especially of those with whom I am not personally aquainted. But it whispers various little lies. It suggests that there might be some other person out there with whom I do agree on every matter—substantive or inconsequential. Or that, just this one time, which is unusual and never otherwise happens, someone said something agreeable in a context where everything else he says is disagreeable.
But really what I’m circling around is the lie that social media proffers, shamelessly, and that we all tepidly accept, even though we know it to be untrue. That is the untruth that if we just keep “talking” we will all eventually agree and then we will be unified and happy and our clever little tower will reach up to the clear blue sky and we will all be god ourselves.
Unfortunately, true perfect agreement can only be wrought by the Spirit of God because we are so strangely and wondrously different. The fact that not a single person can see the world in exactly the same way as any other person, and yet two or more do sometimes agree on something as shocking as Jesus being God, is a miracle, a divine mercy, a beautiful and mystifying thing.
Indeed, I wish there could be some expression less anxious and more welcoming. This phrase didn’t used to be the bread and butter of friendly discourse. It was accepted and understood that there was no way to exactly agree. It was the hashing it out, not the hash-tagging it, that was interesting. But of course, a lot of conversation used to be face to face, or in private communications, or in full length magazine articles or books—it didn’t used to be so impersonal and immediate.
And, it is true that if you forget to use it, the person with whom you agree on this single point will say something awful and unhelpful. And even if you don’t know about it, you will be held responsible for that person’s unorthodox and unacceptable error. You stand to be tainted by association at which point you would have to backtrack and be sorry about the twittering sins of somebody else.
Nevertheless, I trust I am the exception to the rule and that everyone who reads anything I ever say agrees wholeheartedly and never has even one quibble. You can be part of my “Tribe.” I will send you a tote bag and you can signal to the wide world that we agree and that you love everything about me.