I don’t often write about politics, but for the first time in what seems like a long time the mid-term elections are getting a ton of press and seem to be pretty important to a lot of people.
If you’re like me, then you absolutely abhor campaign season. For the next six weeks or so, approximately 75% of the commercials you’ll see on tv and hear on radio will follow the basic pattern of, “(Candidate A) doesn’t like you, America, or puppies. They will raise your taxes, cater to special interests, burn down your house, and force your children to become gay/hate gays. (Candidate B) will make your poop smell like roses, get you a promotion at work, and will single-handedly solve every problem in the world.” (And this is an improvement from just a few years ago, when most candidates didn’t even put the second half of that in their ads…)
Over and over and over and over and over again… Blech…
What I really hate most about campaign season, though, is the constant reminder that we, as a society, have forgotten how to dialog with one another. Dialog is the process of two or more parties engaging in a respectful, thoughtful, honest, considerate exchange of ideas. Dialog happens when all parties involved approach a conversation determined at the outset that a) the other parties involved are valid as human beings and have valid viewpoints, and b) each party will give thoughtful consideration to each viewpoint expressed. When dialog happens, the parties involved listen fully and attentively, ask clarifying questions, and seek to understand the other’s point of view, all while maintaining respect for the other party as a human being with worth. Dialog does not mean that each party enters the conversation ready to compromise their deeply-held beliefs, but that each party will honestly listen and evaluate the other’s viewpoint.
You will not find true dialog on CNN, FOX News, MSNBC. And it will eventually kill America.
There is an old adage that says, “Conversation is an exercise of the mind; gossip is merely an exercise of the tongue.” I think that adage can adequately be extended to political speech in our country. Our news networks have moved away from generally reporting the news, and moved towards personality-based opinion shows. The result often bears a closer resemblance to daytime talk shows than to legitimate news programming.
But it gets worse…
Whether it’s a human tendency, or just an American one, we tend to only listen to and watch the people who think like we do. So we watch the guy/girl we agree with, listen to their like-minded guests (or participate vicariously while they verbally dismantle a guest who doesn’t agree), recite our slogans, reaffirm the beliefs we entered the conversation with, and go on our merry way, not having been challenged in the least.
When we allow ourselves to participate in this sort of pseudo-conversation, the actual result is that we lose, bit by bit, the ability to have a legitimate dialog with anyone. Our thought process becomes inbred. Our conversations with like-minded people become nothing more than reciting slogans and soundbites, and our conversations with people who think differently than we do quickly devolve into argument and impasse.
Can you imagine where we might be today if our nation’s founders had conducted political conversation the way we do now? Ben Franklin, George Washington, Samuel Adams, John Adams, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson – these men all held views about what the fledgling United States should look like politically that we sometimes wildly different. Yet they were able to debate, to discuss, to dialog about their differing opinions. They listened to one another and weighed the validity of each other’s positions. They were united for a common goal and a common purpose, and this political dialog was nothing more or less than trying to figure out the best way to accomplish that greater purpose.
Part of our problem nowadays is that we seem to have no common purpose. There’s no Cold War, no space race, no great enemy or cause that a vast majority of our political leaders, much less America’s population, are equally engaged in. And, in the absence of a unifying element, all we can figure out how to do is shout at each other and cast aspersions on each other’s character.
Unless we experience a fairly radical cultural shift, it will not be a liberal agenda, a conservative agenda, or an attack from outside that will eventually kill our country. It will be our own inability to talk to one another in a constructive way. How sad is it that a country founded on respect for all human beings equally will potentially be brought low by our lack of respect for one another in simple conversation?