by Marion Marks
Hatred, rancor, bitter scarred feelings and sadness of the past year of political discourse are all many of us see or feel. The battle for control of America, many believe, was decided regardless of what we said or did. We were powerless and played by the powerful.
But I believe America is still the winner of an election where most of the actions were the result of the decisions where all could have turned out differently. The process was never glamorous, but it was the will of the voters. And, with all the flaws and claims, America will work through the morass of rancorous partisan squabbles.
The grueling 2016 campaign doesn’t even come to an end in Louisiana until after the December runoffs. And, even then, we will have more noise as the “lame duck” session of congress determines what to do prior to the newly elected officials being sworn in and taking their seats in January.
However, it really is time to come together and move past the bitterness and squalid bickering that has marked the last year. So, here are five suggested strategies for cleansing the bitterness from our lives and our palettes.
1. Measure people by deeds and actions rather than political opinions
People in your circles are more than the sum of their political statements and opinions. If these people were in your life because they brought values to the discussion previously, theymay still have positive contributions to make. If you demonize those whose opinions differ from yours, you will only respect mirror images of yourself. Life would have no depth.
Demonizing the “other candidate” seems to be the first easily defined problem in this election. If you consider the political opponent to be a “demon,” you are denying their basic humanity. Sadly only horrid results come from such characterizations.
Describing “hatreds” becomes “baseless” when groups who despise each other must be turned into list-oriented arguments. When you disagree passionately because your value systems are based on vastly different principles, creating lists helps define specific points of contention. Many disagreements are based on real differences in values, but they are not a reason to hate others so violently. Moving beyond violence and argumentative disagreement, and into the realm of communicating through points of rational disagreement is a first step toward understanding differences in value systems. Too much energy is wasted by angry words.
Despising another person or group based solely on shadows rather than factual evidence loses sight of any positive values of a fellow human beings. People whose value is only based on the sign of a political opinion, perhaps formed in ignorance, is too often the cause of hatred. Ignorance propagates more ignorance and hate.
Reminding ourselves that each of us must possess some basic goodness, that every individual starts life guiltless as far as political position, simply by being born, can help us overcome the temptation to dismiss whole groups of people because we disagree with what we know of their political views.
2. Give the other person the benefit of the doubt
The most damaging factor to most relationships is contempt for a person or group based on undefinable qualities. Contempt is the source of many irreconcilable differences. When we tell ourselves that others are motivated by evil or corruption, particularly when we know only limited information, we cut off the possibility of ever working with them. A constructive mindset is to see disagreements as honest differences of opinion before we may have even defined the points of disagreement.
Too many young politicians create their own walls or prisons based on bitterness and a refusal to attempt to find any areas of common ground. It’s inappropriate to question the motives of others before you walk in their shoes. But, running for office has become too much about making promises that are specific to causes and personal interests rather than character and integrity.
Candidates and elected officials who are forced to walk a narrow path to satisfy special interests may never find success as arbiters or reconcilers where give-and-take or open discussion is required. It is impossible for one side to always be a winner if open discussion is always based on inflexible positions.
3. Issues of common ground must be the golden rule of governing
Extremely strong disagreements and personalities arguing for unique positions on issues, often vehemently disagreeing with one another, are a sign of poor legislative leadership. Peaceful yet vigorous discussion yields the most creative choices for issue resolution, but minds must remain open to see options others suggest as potential solutions.
Serious disagreements may also signal a strong sense of commitment that can unite foes in common solutions. While pursuing individual arguments, even while clashing, we can fail in our task of searching for truth and our commitment to justice and lose sight of our most important goals. Like family members who argue but are ultimately dedicated to each other’s well-being, the best leaders emerge from disputes strengthened rather than weakened. Far from producing discord, their debates lead to love and harmony.
We can strive to bring some of this spirit into our own conversations after this election season. We must focus on what unites us instead of things that divide us. Dwelling on shared values and common goals, we can strive to work with those whose political views differ from our own.
4. We must be open to new ideas
When the internet was first developed, many people thought it would have far-reaching consequences for democracy. For the first time, with the click of a button, we were able to access news and opinions from diverse sources around the world, learn new things and challenge old assumptions. But, in general the internet appears to have done the opposite, because it serves to reinforce existing biases and opinions. Journalists have shown that the internet has created “echo chambers,” self-reinforcing news and opinion sites where we spend our time reinforcing our biases with little or no opposing ideas that would only disturb us. How sad to think that we fear knowledge!
Surrounding ourselves with those who think exactly as we do has created a robotic society of dullards. Far from these dullards, we need leaders who aren’t afraid to engage with opposing men and women who will challenge the status quo. The hottest fire creates the strongest steel, because a powerful debater will want others to challenge ideas and sharpen talents.
Public debating is an American way to challenge other’s principles. If we are not up to the challenge, we can’t believe that our system remains the best alternative for government. Open and equal discussion helps us work out exactly what we believe in and why. This election season is over and many lessons will be learned as we study the results over time. But, only when we take a step out of our comfort zone to read articles and news from different points of view, talk with those of different political persuasions, will we grow and learn to make the system better.
5. Work for peace
This political year, ending in December in Louisiana, has been politically divisive in many ways. We all need help recovering and redefining our common civility if we expect to all be able to move forward constructively. Quiet time spent in introspection help us prioritize how and what we need to do to seek healing for our fractured society.
Peace, an offer with politeness and courtesies should serve to motivate others to assist in making changes that communicate priorities and goals required to build our community, our state, our country and our world into a safer, better place for the children of tomorrow.