One of my favorite sayings is “You have to separate the Stuff from the stuff.” I can’t take credit for it; I first heard it in an episode of Aaron Sorkin’s Sports Night, but it has always stuck in my mind. The basic idea is that we all have a tendency to mistake what something is about for what we think something is about, and allow our emotional reactions to secondary or tertiary issues cloud our opinions about the main issue itself. Separating the Stuff from the stuff means thinking through these reactions and finding the real heart of the issue at hand.
There’s a rampant need for this; so much of what passes for public discourse these days seems to thrive on emotion and instinct. Whether it’s secular people ridiculing Christianity based on the words or actions of some Christians, or Christian groups attacking PSAs designed to save lives because they see them as “gay propaganda”, or liberals and conservatives in the US both getting inordinate amounts of mileage out of very minor changes to laws about the availability of contraceptives, it seems there is little genuine discourse going on. And this bothers me to no end.