A return to respect in politics
I read an article this morning about how Bernie Sanders was booed by a bunch of Democrats because he hedged when asked when he planned to come out and fully support Hillary Clinton. Commenters were up in arms that anyone dare boo their candidate of choice because how dare they?
Let me get this part out of the way first: I support Bernie Sanders. He has enough delegates to go the the Democratic Convention later this month and demonstrate to all of America just how important his message is. I applaud him for sticking to it and taking his supporters all the way to Philadelphia. I don’t know the guy personally, so I don’t know if its just part of his mystique or a real part of his core (I prefer to believe the later), but that he won’t back down from a tough fight is one of the traits I most admire.
My bigger point, in writing today, is to ask how have we become a nation that won’t tolerate dissent? How can we suddenly not stomach disagreement and wildly different ideas in this great big country of ours? I guess its not so sudden, really. I mean, four years ago I had a so-called friend tell me I should jump off the tallest building I could find because we were arguing over welfare policy. If you must know, I argued my point, he had no good counter argument, so instead of conceding, he thought I should inflict bodily harm upon myself. Some friend, huh? But I digress.
We live in a gigantic country. Google just told me it’s 3.806 million mi² to be exact. WOW. But, really, in all that space, we can’t eek out a corner for everyone to have their own opinion? And more importantly, we can’t give each other space to hold our competing ideals tightly against our chests? In my mind, a strong democracy is one where citizens who have distinctly different ideas will fight tooth and nail to find common ground and finally COME TOGETHER as one.
Anymore, we stop at the fighting part. How is that? Why?
If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say it’s because the drama is in the fighting. Have you ever met a couple who fights constantly and seem to enjoy their relationship solely because they love the drama of fighting? I sure have and I gotta say I hate being around those people.
I’m definitely a peacenik. If I had my way we’d argue quickly and civilly and come to an agreement that suits everyone enough to create as much contentment as possible. Of course, nobody’d want to watch that on prime time TV. Plus, I understand that in politics especially, a lot of folks want to throw their chests out and make a big show of what they think. I’m always up for a good debate, but how about we lay out some ground rules? Because, honestly? Capitol Hill looks like a playground with an absent playground monitor most days. Which is pitiful because these are the people we’ve hired to take care of the business of running our country.
So how about those ground rules?
- Listen. If you’ve ever seen a counselor or read anything about human interactions you’ve heard the term active listening. All it means is really listen to what the other person is saying. Repeat back to them, in your words, their message so you’re all clear about what’s really being said and what’s most important. What this does not include is constructing your counter-argument while they’re still talking. You can’t take in what someone is saying that way.
- Think. Take a minute, take a few, and maybe a few more! In 2016 it seems we have no respect for reflection and rumination anymore. But to really roll a new or different idea around in your head, you’ll need some time. Take it! A little bit of thoughtfulness never hurt anyone!
- Focus. This is a biggie: pay most attention to what you can agree on. There’s always at least a sliver of agreement in two differing points. Start there. How can you grow that sliver?
- The Point. Stick to the single point at hand. It’s easy to take the issue you’re arguing and compare it to something similar, but then the argument gets wider, and more complicated, and you’re gonna get nowhere fast that way. Stick to the one issue and do not detour from it.
- Don’t Delay. While we definitely need time to think deeply about a disagreement, don’t put off the discussion for too long. Other issues will rear up and take precedence and then this first thing will never be resolved. Let’s face it, things like affordable higher education, racial equality, sensible gun regulations, etc. etc. need to be resolved.
- The Blame Game. Just don’t. It doesn’t help anyone to point fingers and find fault. It might be satisfying on some level to claim faultlessness, but the problem is still going to be there when you get done patting yourself on the back. This is a gigantic waste of time.
- Win-Win. Yup, we’re back to that common ground thing. If you’re going to make the largest portion of citizens happy or content with a decision, you need to look for the win-win. And let’s face it, win-win is never going to be on either extreme side of the realm of possibilities. I know this is particularly unpopular right now because politics has become some sort of extreme fight club, but it’s true.
If you got through that list, you might recognize it as a list of how to argue successfully in a relationship. Of course politics is about relationship. And we NEED to stop with the hate and the contention and the love of the drama because as an American, I don’t want to be a laughing stock on the world stage. I want to be proud of us. I want us to reach for our very highest ideals and quit with the hate and pandering to the ugliest parts of the human psyche.
And that, dear friends, is all I’m gonna say about that.