It’s time to bring civility back to politics

If you spend any amount of time on the internet, particularly on social media, you’re keenly aware of the divisiveness wrought by the mention of anything remotely political.

It’s tragic.

Each of us has in our pockets or purses a tool that makes possible communication in any number of ways. Yet, more often than not disagreements devolve into schoolyard name-calling and sometimes escalate, damaging or even causing the termination of long-standing relationships.

Rather than being an arena in which common ground can be explored, ideas honed, and perspectives enlightened and expanded, political discussion, as it’s handled en masse has morphed into a bitter and destructive force, but it wasn’t always so dire.

I cut my conservative teeth watching (on YouTube) William F. Buckley interview cultural, political, and Hollywood figures with whom he frequently disagreed. The playing field was hardly level; guests of ‘Firing Line’ never stood a chance on the stage Buckley set, but I watched, fascinated by Buckley’s composure and ability to corral discussion away from emotionally-driven arguments and into the rational pen.

But rational discussion among disagreeing adults is no longer what the people want. Anger and outrage breed more of the same, but they’re both great click generators. Discussing how so and so “slammed” someone is also popular click fodder and every side is gratified not by a point well made, but by how embarrassed the other party was rendered.

The behavior we’ve welcomed as acceptable in political discussion is exactly what we discourage in our children.

Our collective desire to be right has overshadowed one of the most crucial aspects of any relationship: the ability to hear.

Marriage teaches you many things about yourself if you allow it. My husband and I recently began our fourth year together and it wasn’t until being married to this amazingly patient man that I learned the difference between listening and hearing. Anyone can listen to the words of another, but taking the time to hear the other party requires stepping out of ourselves and attempting to see the world through the eyes of someone whose view is vastly different from our own.

I’m always amazed at how differently he and I see the very same object or issue or circumstance. In taking the time to hear, even when I vehemently disagree with his assessment, my admiration and appreciation for him grow, and my curiosity about his world is piqued.

Thankfully, we’re not all doomed to live in a world where politics as a relationship casualty is a constant.

After what seemed like the longest, nastiest, election season in this history of mankind, I was struggling to remember why I work in politics, why I suffer the hate for sharing my thoughts, why I watch others endure the same, day after day after day. And then Hurrican Harvey hit.

We live in Houston where, thankfully, we remained high and dry. But in the worst of situations, the best of humanity was on full display. Neighbor helped neighbor, meal chains popped up, garages and churches were turned into distribution centers, and people unaffected were anxious to help those who’d lost everything. Large shelters were so overwhelmed with donations and volunteers, they were turning people and carloads of supplies away.

No one cared about politics. The priority was taking care of those needing help. If there was a family with a need, there was a family happy to assist.

This is who we are. And this is how we’re called to live.

Yet that same grace that saved our city is distorted by the blue lights of smart screens and what really matters is lost, abandoned for a petty squabble.

As long as I’ve worked in politics it has been my goal to 1) spread truth and 2) remind others (and myself) that regardless of who we vote for or what we believe, we’re all in this together. This ride will be a lot more fun if we spend more time focusing on the areas where we can find agreement instead of insisting the rest of the world come around to our own worldview.

May we find the grace to talk a little less, hear a little more, and find ways to fill a need. May we begin to view opposing viewpoints as opportunities to learn and grow.

We and the state of political discourse will be all the better for it.

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