Monday, September 7, 2009

the state of political discourse

Have you ever struck up a conversation with a stanger and then part-way in wished you hadn't? One where you found out the person shared a similar interest and you thought you could have a fun discussion of it, but realized you were miles apart on your views? And that they were deadly serious about being in the right?

I had that experience back in my singles' days. I was at a pre-Thanksgiving gathering and met a new person who mentioned that he liked politics. I was a poli sci major in college,so we began talking. I was in Arizona at the time and we had just had an election where a new governor was elected, in a three-way race. I had reservations about one candidate's commitment, and another's extreme political views, and so picked the third candidate, a woman with substantial career political experience who I thought would do just fine.

The moment I mentioned who I had voted for the conversation went off the cliff. In the view of the other person it was if I had committed a mortal sin. They , of course, had supported the extreme candidate, who won. I then spent the next 10-15 minutes (seemed like forever) trying to get out of the conversation. It has made me wary to this day to blindly start conversations on politics with strangers. It's not that I don't do it, nor that I only talk with people I know I will agree with. But I want to make sure that the person I talk to will be reasonable and have a conversation, not just rant if I happen to disagree with their position.

I think this is where the country is right now in political discourse. There is little conversation going on and much more ranting. The disagreements are framed in the context of name calling,inflammatory rhetoric, lack of common courtesy, and posturing. Some of the signs I have seen are shameful and many comments are not meant to contribute to better understanding - sought or shared - but as verbal bombshells meant to intimidate, shame, ridicule, or cut off discussion.

People need to watch what they say, not because"someone is listening" , but because words can hurt and common decency should lead us to care what other people think and feel,no matter who they are or what they believe.Too often people use words they do not understand or realize what they mean. For example, if someone says something is "un-American", they are saying that it is off limits, end of discussion. Or, if someone says something is "immoral" then further advocacy of the idea itself is seen as "immoral"and the person advocating it as "immoral". They may not intend for that to be so, but it is. How can you argue against an "un-American" or "immoral" idea?

In contrast ,when someone says that they believe something is wrong, you can ask"why" , and you can disagree if you like, saying "I believe it is right". It is an exchange of views and beliefs, not hard and fast "truths".You can agree to disagree without it becoming personal or judgmental. Unfortunately today that is not very evident - especially on health care. The "judges" and verbal bomb throwers have taken over, and ordinary citizens are either being seduced by it, or repulsed. And battle lines are drawn ,when building solutions needs to take place.
Heaven help us all.

No comments:

Post a Comment