After my previous two articles, I’d like to clarify: I’m not saying we should retreat from the political arena, refrain from sharing opinions on issues we feel strongly about, passively accept mistreatment, look the other way in the face of injustice, forsake our favorite causes or stop working to resolve social problems.
Some would argue that even talking about politics or hot-button social issues is poor etiquette. That getting involved in causes is the province of people afraid to look too closely at their personal issues. That marches, rallies and boycotts are inherently divisive. That civil discussion is a waste of time since most of us already have our minds made up. That special interests control our government to the point where voting is futile, so why bother?
I would respectfully disagree with all of this. Participating in the political process is not only a right, but one of our responsibilities as citizens. Supporting a good cause beats sitting in front of our screens playing one video game after another. Too many problems need addressing for us to move in the direction of self-absorbed apathy and disconnection. We do need to stay engaged.
But could we please, please stop the vitriol? If we really want to change hearts and minds, we must stop the name-calling, the scapegoating and the demonizing.
The Constitution guarantees our right to petition our government for the redress of grievances, whether that involves writing letters to our representatives, attending town hall events or visiting lawmakers in their offices. But I suspect our elected officials – being human – will pay more attention to a politely-worded letter and listen more carefully to constituents who refrain from shouting them down while they’re trying to speak.
Marches and rallies are a time-honored way to call public attention to an injustice. But can we do this without violence and destruction of property? I think we can agree there is a huge difference between rioting or looting on the one hand, and a peaceful protest in which organizers have obtained all the proper permits.
If a company treats customers badly or engages in business practices we believe to be immoral, a boycott allows us to vote with our feet and our pocketbooks. But it wouldn’t hurt if we let the offending company know the reason for the boycott in a letter, email or tweet that has been edited to delete profanities.
I enjoy watching TV programs in which people discuss the issues of the day. But could our political pundits learn to speak one at a time and stop interrupting each other constantly? Recently I’ve taken to switching the channel as soon as commentators start talking over each other.
I have nothing against people wearing t-shirts and sporting bumper stickers in support of their favorite cause or candidate. But I’m with Her and Make America Great Again are one thing. Cheeto is a vulgar pig and Trump that Bitch are another.
Name-calling and other rude behavior stop genuine discussion and problem solving in their tracks. Lashing out only gives others an excuse to ignore our concerns, discount us and dismiss our issues. For those of us who claim to be people of faith, spewing snarky insults gives people ammunition to call us hypocrites and declare they want nothing to do with either us or our religion.
Being civil, on the other hand, carries strategic advantages. After all, we want people to take us seriously, right?
In my own case, I actually have changed my mind now and then over the years, even on some fairly big issues. When I did so, it was because someone presented factual information in such a way that I could listen without becoming defensive. It also helped if the other person was willing to hear my side of the story, shared their personal experience of the issue in question, or showed me how I could come around to their way of thinking without sacrificing values important to me.
But I can promise I have never, EVER changed my mind because someone called me names, insulted me or tried to convince me I was a terrible person. All yelling and character assassination ever did for me was encourage me to dig in my heels or walk away. People of all political stripes have let me know I’m not alone in this regard.
In our current environment, we are so often presented with only two alternatives – be “in-your-face” reactionary or be apathetic. I’d like to see a third option. I’d like to see all of us eliminate the name-calling, the trolling and the flaming, and have a rational discussion about serious issues.
We need to replace our desire to be right with a desire to solve problems. That way, instead of Our Side winning, perhaps we can all win.