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Turning Down the Flames of Being Inflamed

by John on 03/16/2012

One personal rule I have: never lose a friend over politics. As a result, I am blessed with friends on all side of the political spectrum. I don’t know if I inherited this from my father or I learned it as a journalist. As a result, I don’t recall any candidates thinking I did a hatchet-job on them — or gave them puff-ball questions either.

This also works in everyday life. It’s not about making your point; it’s about finding out about another person: what they’re really thinking and why. It’s more about intellectual curiosity rather than standing on ceremony. You will learn more.

A good book and an interview with the author articulate it much better.

The book is Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion. I have not read it yet, but I will. I usually don’t recommend books I haven’t read, but I was very impressed with an interview the author Jonathan Haidt, a professor at University of Virginia, did on the Dylan Ratigan Show.

Here are a few of the points from the conversation:

First, the difference between liberals and conservatives is that liberals emphasize the value of Care and Fairness and universal rights more than conservatives, whereas conservatives tend to lean toward Loyalty, Order, and Authority while seeing United States superiority.

This is a nice definition. Yes, it is somewhat simplistic. But it’s a good starting point for our discussion — and for you to use when you get into political discussions. See if you can point out these traits in the person you’re talking with — rather than telling them how wrong they are. Again, we’re trying to tone down the inflammatory talk.

I tend to boil things down to formulas as well. As a literature student, I have always remembered the easy explanation of all American literature: the individual versus the common good. Pick any piece of American literature and you can see it. Baseball explains it the best. But that’s for a different post.

The second point from Professor Haidt might make you realize how contradictory — or evil — political parties are.

Second, we tend to look for confirmation of what we believe and we “team up” with people who share those beliefs. But, and this is a big one, after we team up, we become close-minded and “we forget that morality is diverse.” Now add special interest money to the mix — and you get two political parties the majority of Americans are leery of.

This second point explains the larger number of independents compared to Republicans and Democrats in recent years. Democrats want freedom of choice for abortion and contraception but they won’t allow their child to attend a better school. Republicans want to stop abortion, yet they fight contraception which could end many abortions. (More on this issue in future posts too.)

My prediction has always been that one of the parties — right now I think it’s the GOP — will either realign so we don’t recognize them or break into a third party before 2020. Factions such as the Evangelicals, the Business Republicans, the Neo-cons, and The Party will find that the party core does not meet their moral standards.

It also shows what happened to The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. Both movements had singular goals: the Tea Party wanted fiscal discipline; Occupy wanted to uncover income inequality caused by Wall Street. However, both movements began to stray from those goals as they tried to gain new followers and power. The Tea Party started moving into social issues and, in some cases, were branded racist. While certain followers of Occupy looked like they were just trying to get jobs for themselves. Despite these, what I call, “natural group occurances”, the Tea Party and Occupy have affected our lives politically and economically and will continue into the 2012 elections.

Here are some tips I offered in my book:

  • Don’t use your knowledge as a weapon to win debates or to belittle someone’s lack of information. Understand that no one likes to be proved wrong.
  • Don’t try to change someone’s mind. Most people have their own biases and ways of thinking. No one likes to hear “I told you so.” I am always suspicious of zealots. I think they try to convince others because they are not confident in their beliefs and they need to convert others to reassure themselves.
  • You may actually change someone’s mind, but you may never know it.
  • Use phrases like “I understand” or “That’s interesting,” before you say, “You should read this book I just read” or “There’s an interesting article I just saw that relates to what you’re saying.”
  • It’s fine to let someone know how you voted or where you stand on an issue. But standing on ceremony is bad business.
  • Don’t expect everyone to agree with you. Sometimes that is worse than everyone disagreeing with you. My good friend, comedian Gary Mule Deer, explains: “My grandfather told me, ‘Listen, if we all liked the same things, everybody’d be after your grandma.’”
  • Use your information to bridge differences. You should always offer the information and insight you possess when appropriate, but remember it is something that was given to you: You either heard it or read it. You do not own it, but you have every right to control it.

Your turn; give me your suggestions on how to turn the down the heat and create more light.

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