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Commentary: The Chick-fil-A furor reveals our disturbing crisis of conviction

Protesters hold signs outside a Chick-fil-A fast food restaurant in Hollywood, California. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s decision to eat at Chick-fil-A caused a social media furor over the weekend. Dorsey shouldn’t have been called out for his decision to eat at a fast food restaurant. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

American culture is suffering a startling crisis of conviction. Gone are the days of agreeing to disagree or of thoughtfully respecting ideological opponents’ perspectives.

Today, we’re living in the era of “agree with me or else,” with the threats for noncompliance ranging from the intentional spread of rampant rumors to strategic attempts to destroy reputations or businesses. We’re an interpersonally dysfunctional culture, with some agitators setting out to take down any public figure or business with whom they disagree.

The latest example? The bizarre furor over Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s decision over the weekend to eat at Chick-fil-A, the wildly popular restaurant chain that has repeatedly been voted as one of the nation’s most popular fast food joints.

Here’s how it unfolded: Dorsey tweeted a screenshot indicating that he had eaten at Chick-fil-A and his Twitter followers went wild. Why, you ask? Well, in 2012, Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy famously defended traditional marriage. His comments set off a firestorm and a culture battle that extended far beyond the debate over the deliciousness of fried chicken.

Flash-forward six years and the anger is still palpable, with some influencers even getting in on the conversation. Former CNN host Soledad O’Brien responded to Dorsey’s Chick-fil-A tweet with the following proclamation: “This is an interesting company to boost during Pride month, @jack.”

Others piled on with more explicit rants and demands that Dorsey delete his tweet and renounce Chick-fil-A once and for all. Some people — including members of the LBGTQ community — hit back at those critics, though, proclaiming that they love the fast food chain regardless of matrimonial viewpoints and have no problem eating there.

They even encouraged Dorsey not to give in to critics’ pressure. For his part, though, the Twitter CEO backtracked in a response to O’Brien, tweeting: “You’re right. Completely forgot about their background” — a proclamation that frustrated some conservatives.

In the end, the entire spectacle was a troubling indication of just how dysfunctional our culture has become — an issue I discuss in-depth in my book, “Fault Line: How a Seismic Shift in Culture Is Threatening Free Speech and Shaping the Next Generation.” Dorsey shouldn’t have been called out for his decision to eat at a fast food restaurant. Furthermore, there was no need for him to wade into Chick-fil-A’s “background.”

It’s chicken. Everyone calm down.

The entire debacle is surely silly, but it sheds light on a bigger, broader problem: With more communication tools than ever before, we’re somehow woefully unable to communicate with compassion and common sense amid disagreement, many times turning to baseless attacks and stereotypes that seek to diminish the targets of our rage.

More importantly, we’ve lost the ability to respect peoples’ perspectives, especially when we disagree with opponents’ conclusions on sensitive topics. Too many of us feel safer and happier in our silos, away from the “dangers” of opposing viewpoints.

At the center of the latest Chick-fil-A debacle and so much of the other social chaos we’re experiencing is an exacerbating crisis of conviction. Too many people elevate political and social views over everything else and, in the process, refuse to honor or consider the deeply held beliefs their fellow citizens might hold.

It’s “ideological freedom and conviction for me, none for thee.” At the core, a toxic amalgam of selfishness, self-importance and close-mindedness is threatening our ability to peacefully coexist with one another.

The more volatile or contentious an issue, the more likely many of us are to pounce on anyone who believes differently, to assume the worst about him or her and, in some cases, to proceed to diminish a person’s (or company’s) character or reputation.

The reality is: Good people will disagree on a slew of issues — and marriage is no exception. Decent people can look at the same issue and come away with divergent conclusions; that’s simply the nature of life. Having the respect and maturity to navigate these conversations and issues is the sign not only of a healthy conscience, but also of a viable culture.

Somehow, fairness and understanding have become lost arts, as we’ve traded in critical thinking skills for perpetual outrage and ideological laziness. Listening doesn’t mean agreeing — it means recognizing that honest and raw conviction can be embedded deep in one’s heart.

When we refuse to listen to others’ convictions and understand where they’re coming from, we start down a slippery slope — one that leads us toward dehumanization, attacks and dismissals. Beyond that, it deprives each of us of the ability to refine our own worldviews by hearing what people on the other side have to say.

The old adage “agree to disagree” should be a goal worth aspiring toward. It seems the scores of liberal New York City residents lining up outside of Chick-fil-A at lunchtime each and every day get it — but do you? Let’s be better.

Billy Hallowell is the director of communications and content at PureFlix.com, the former faith and culture editor of TheBlaze, and the author of “The Armageddon Code.” Follow him on Twitter @BillyHallowell.

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