How We've Let Politics Ruin the Art of Discourse
by Jozalyn Sharp, 9/18/2018 2:49 PM
My grandmother screams at the television. Sucked in by the 24 hour news cycle, she sits in her red recliner day in and day out pining for a Democratic president and cursing at representatives of the right. Flip the political affiliations either way and I bet each and every one of you reading this has someone in your family like this. Someone so caught up in the discourse they forgot that part of the human condition is coexisting. She screams again, my grandfather tells her to knock it off, and I tell my grandmother what I really think of it all. She listens. Maybe she’s changed, maybe she isn’t. We have a responsibility to keep discourse alive.
The left and the right conversation has permeated every day life for two years now. The far left screaming for social justice and the far right screaming for tradition. Then there’s those of us who are in the middle (however far right or left we may lean) quietly asking for compromise. The chess club kid at their first high school party trapped in the kitchen while two jocks fight it out for the head cheerleader. The whole time you’re quietly whispering to them as they pummel each other, “She’s fucking that college guy with the sports car…”, but no one hears you.
I have spoken openly on one of my podcasts, MetalSucks, that I do not think the way forward is exclusion. I do not think it is human to tell someone that because they support our current president or the right regime that they are a piece of garbage. If they are a piece of garbage, I’ll fucking take them to the dump myself. However, I was raised in a home of tolerance. Raised by ethical women and strong military men. People who taught me that tolerance isn’t just sitting down with people you agree with, but also sitting down with people you don’t agree with. Not just sitting with them, but listening to them with an open heart and an open mind because that’s what you would want them to do. People aren’t interested in that anymore. It seems as though everyone has inflated themselves to the point of righteousness. Crusaders battling it out for the morality of the world.
Why can’t I, as an open and proud Liberal, break bread with a Trump supporter? Why can’t I sit and have a beer with one? If I do, far right leaning liberals will call me a sympathizer. I probably am a sympathizer. I sympathize with humanity. I have my own personal feelings about the president, but I don’t let those close my mind. I cannot. It would go against everything I was raised to believe was right to discount someone based on that. There is no progress where minds are closed.
We often do not want to open our minds to those we see as immoral because our innate fear is that we will be made immoral for the interaction. Or maybe we fear that we might agree. Maybe the fear is that we will have to justify the interaction to others on our side of the fence who may judge us for it. Fear. There is a common thread permeating the world today and it is fear. Fear causes families to tear themselves apart over a divisive political climate. Fear is a powerful emotion and I see it changing the way people look at each other. Changing the way fathers look at sons, they way brothers look at sisters. Fear is a powerful distraction. We have a chance to make real change in society, and we won’t for fear that our side won’t completely “win”. If fear drives the conversation, the solution will always be self-serving.
Do not misread me. I sit on my couch at home and think, “How can people think this is good?!”. I want to bang my fists on the table as much as everyone else, but that’s not the way forward. I shouldn’t be asking “How can people think this is good?” with incredulity, I should be asking it with genuine curiosity. I should be trying to understand the people on the other side of the fence. I should be trying to understand them so I can communicate with them.
When it comes to communication, lots of us want to make demands on how people communicate with us, but we balk when people ask us to communicate with them on their level if we deem it intellectually or morally beneath us. That isn’t open mindedness, that’s arrogance. That’s millions of people refusing to believe that we have something to learn from each other, that compromise is a possibility, and that you don’t have to own the same moral belief systems to co-exist.
There are religions that believe I should be subservient to man. Like, FUCK THAT 100%, but that doesn’t stop me from sitting at a table with someone of that religion and smiling. Eating with them, speaking with them, learning from them. There are performance artists banning Trump supporters from their events. Far left people cry out in victory over this, but all I hear is intolerance. Would we pump our fists in the air if that same artist said they didn’t want Muslims in their events? No we’d tear them down for being ethnocentric and close minded. We’d tell them that just because someone was raised differently or had a different belief system doesn’t make them any less valid of a person. Why is an open mind only afforded to those who we deem as “right” or “good”? Who makes that choice? What judge and jury must I please to be deemed right or good?
The right and the left both cover their ears and scream instead of asking each other questions.
But, Jozalyn, there’s people on the right/left who don’t want to be educated, they share articles on social media without checking it’s validity, they spout things that aren’t true as if they’re facts, and there’s just no reasoning with them. I promise you if you were truly attempting to communicate that wouldn’t be the issue. Condescending comments of “You should check your facts” or PM’s letting them know how wrong they are, AREN’T COMMUNICATING. You cannot viably communicate about complex social issues in a Facebook comment thread. It’s impossible to do it on any intellectual level because it allows people to be too reactive and it also allows them to interpret your message any way they choose. If you really want to communicate do it over the phone, do it in person, do it in a way that makes you both see or feel some part of each other’s humanity. Facebook is the glory hole of human interaction. It’s great and fun, but whatever you’re picturing is on the other side of that hole is probably nothing like what actually is over there. (No, Mom, I’ve never done a glory hole.)
But, Jozalyn, I don’t see this person in person and I don’t have their phone number because we’re no that close. Really? I challenge you to say that shit in the mirror and then explain to yourself why you care so much about someone you don’t even have in your phone contacts. This person is someone you barely know and you care so much about what they think that you HAVE to blow up their Facebook comments with your righteous knowledge? Do you not have Netflix? Do you live in a country where masturbation is illegal? Do you have that much time on your hands? Take a second look at how much you’re letting that person affect your emotional state. However “wrong” their opinions may be, if you don’t know them that well you’re not changing their mind. The aren’t close enough to you for you care about them either. If you do not CARE what that person thinks or believes or feels, are you communicating? No, you’re not because you have no reason to truly listen or reach agreement with that person. Then you have two people just screaming about how right they are. You’re just yelling your opinion into the void. She says writing a blog for 12 people to read.
But, Jozalyn, how can I be close with someone who supports someone I literally think is evil!/destroying our country. Whatever side you are on, why in the world would you let political affiliations tear apart your family? In what reality would you feel good about that? My mother instilled a massive anxiety disorder in me both genetically and with her constant frenetic worrying. What I am thankful for is she did it in a way that makes me look at things differently. When you are constantly aware of how close to death we are at every moment of the day, things don’t really seem like that big of a deal. Don’t disown your dad because he voted for Trump, or your daughter because she voted for Hillary. Your moral indignation and inability to coexist with someone of a differing opinion is going to ruin your relationship with someone you love? Not worth it. If they fall tragically terminally ill you won’t be standing over their death bed, leaning down to whisper in their ear, “I bet you wish you voted for the other guy now.”
Coexisting with people of different belief systems is part of being an adult. That includes political beliefs. My grandfather is in his 70’s, a retired Navy Chief and high voltage electrician, and very white. He told me recently that the problem with the world is “old rich piece of shit white bigots”. I’m not saying he’s wrong, but I am saying that if I went to him and told him I couldn’t work with someone who was a Trump supporter he’d tell me to “sack up and quit my belly-acheing.” He’d tell me that that’s not the way adults behave.
I’m passionate about this because I love the dialogue that’s happening. I am full of hope for the future that we are finally openly talking about the problems with racism and sexual assault in our country. That more and more of us are looking at guns and wondering if they are worth the lives of our children. The environment, the economy, foreign relations. These things are all conversations we should be having right now.
But that’s just it, isn’t it? We’re not having conversations. We’re having meme wars, and making snarky comments. Highly visible political figures taking shots at each other and the issues on FUCKING TWITTER.
What we have is millions of people standing in a courtyard. Each of them standing on a soap box. Screaming to be the loudest, hoping people will stop in front of their soap box. Screaming, never realizing that there’s no one to listen to your message. No one is going to stop because everyone is on their own box. The more of us who step off of ours and and spend more time listening, the quieter the screaming will become. Soon it will be heated yelling, and soon after that it will be calm chatter. Then and only then can we have conversations. Step off your soap box today, and challenge yourself to listen to someone you disagree with with an open mind. Watch them step off theirs to have a conversation with you.
Maybe I’m too empathetic. I don’t know. Who am I to say?
I’m stepping off my soap box now. I’m ready to listen.