Happy Father’s Day. As a father of three, my wife and I have done some things right and some things wrong. One of the better things we have done is to not tolerate uncivil behavior among our children to each other or others outside the family. As a result, our kids get along well and we have a great blessing of having their friends enjoy hanging around. As any parent will attest, in any argument, both parties tend to share at least some of the blame for the conflict. Oftentimes, the “what did I do?” culprit did something over time that may have led to the event.
Yet, we seem to have lost that perspective when we see adults acting in a childish we/ they manner in matters of politics, business and religion. The Pew Research Center just completed a survey that defined how polarized Americans are becoming and the lack of mistrust of people who believe differently and the blame they assign to the other side. The survey was more for political beliefs, but it could be expanded as well to other hard belief systems. To me, one of the major culprits in this polarization can be traced back to audience segmentation to sell things in the late 1980s. With the advent of better information, sellers of products and services, have targeted audiences to sell more of what they have to offer. This started bleeding over into politics, where the audiences can be guided to “same-song” messages from sources where you will be more inclined to hear what you want to hear.
When you layer on top of that the significant cost of election campaigns, funders can now more easily invest in politicians that will be more inclined to do what the funder wants. And, the funders can influence elections across the country, which is a huge unfair advantage. As the Brat upset of Cantor in Virginia showed, money cannot always buy elections, but for the most part the level of influence is significant. So, with these factors rolled up together, we are in a constant state of we/ they competition where one side is obligated to disagree with the other side on any issue. We are in a continual campaign state and governance of resolving issues is less a concern until the politicians have to act, but even then it is not a given.
The sad part of all of this is the pawns in this ongoing chess game do not get much consideration. The politicians are playing a zero sum game, where my side must win and your side must lose. But, in the end, the pawns are the ones who usually get screwed. So, this we/ they inanity needs to come to a stop or be identified and discounted. As an independent voter who has been a member of both mainstream parties and votes for both Republicans and Democrats, I can assure you neither party owns all the good ideas. To be frank, I am also seeing some very poor ideas that are being considered and passed. When the modus operandi is to have an opposing view on anything, strange ideas can evolve when the other side is closer to being correct in their issue identification and possible solution than you are.
So, how do we end this we/ they inanity? First, if you think you are always right and the other side is always wrong, you may want look in the mirror. You will see a flawed human being. Second, expose yourself to better information sources. We have two unique sets of news sources in our country with Fox and MSNBC who at best, will give you a spun version of the news. My suggestion is to look to more independent news sources. You will find you disagree with what those sources say at times. Good, as you need to challenge your understanding of the issues. When you only hear a spun version of the news, even-handed news can appear biased.
Third, understand that while everyone has opinion, depending on the subject, some opinions should be discounted while others should be heeded. I tend to avoid “shout shows” where people shout over each other. Usually, the louder the voice or more name-calling, the lesser the person’s argument. Look to read or hear from subject matter experts. This is one of the reasons I watch PBS Newshour and BBC World News America, as they tend to have knowledgeable subject matter guests who are allowed to voice their opinions. Another excellent source is NPR which has knowledgeable guests who agree some, disagree some, but hear the other point of view. Plus, on each of these shows, the reporters and hosts are very knowledgeable themselves and can ask good questions.
Fourth, encourage people to focus on the issues and not who benefits politically. I detest the last subject. I recall Katty Kay from the BBC stopping a guest when he started answering a question with who will benefit politically. She said that was not what she asked. She wanted to know what the impact will be and what should be done about it. That is the question we should be asking. I personally care less who will benefit politically and want us to speak to the issues and problems. I also care less for reporters who focus more on the game of politics and less the issues.
Fifth, ask more questions of people and politicians. “Why do you feel that way?” “Help me understand why this is important?” “Who benefits most from this approach and should we rely as much on data provided by that group?” Also, do your best to understand the context of why something was said and done. To be frank, the Internet demonstrates that anyone can be made to look like an idiot if what they say is taken out of context. That does not mean what they said is not idiotic, but you need to look under the hood and at a person’s track record. Someone who does the right thing 19 times out of 20, has a bigger reserve of good will than someone who often does or says the wrong thing. I would also note “words are cheap.” Many politicians will say nice words, but do the opposite for various reasons.
Sixth and finally, blessed are the peace makers and collaborators. Collaboration is not a bad word and I don’t know how we have made it so. For someone to lose their job for collaborating is inane and a disservice to the American people. Go back to the earlier comments above – no side has all the right answers and both sides have some wrong ones. If you want to discredit someone for collaborating to find a solution we can all work with, then go back and look in that mirror. Our greatness is our diversity of thought and people. Whether it is gender, race, ethnicity, religious belief, or sexual orientation, we all have a perspective worth hearing and understanding. You may not agree with it, but listen and you may learn from it. You may also find more common ground than first believed, which is a foundation to build from.
Let’s honor our fathers by being better citizens and acting more like adults. And, two old quotes bear repeating here. First, “you have two ears and one mouth, so use them in that proportion.” Second, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”This we/ they inanity has to end or be discounted for what it is.