Just over a year has passed since the 2016 presidential election, and polls, public sentiment and the national conversation tell us that Americans are more divided and our politics are more dysfunctional than ever.
When our Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution outlining the right to freedom of speech I don’t think they meant we should destroy each other with it. As a matter of fact, right after the mention of “freedom of speech,” there is mention of “the right of the people peaceably to assemble.”
Though not a physical place of assembly, Facebook and Twitter are certainly places where we assemble to voice our opinions and read that of others. And sadly, where some feel if another person’s political train of thought does not match their own there is no room for debate, and peaceably goes out the window.
It’s as if the things that were once important to us — friendships, family, faith and community — have all become secondary to our wanting to be right.
But I believe we can do something about it. I believe we can make a difference if only by practicing the golden rule – or by remembering the words of our Founding Fathers. That we are all “created equal,” and each allowed to pursue life liberty and happiness as we see fit.
That doesn’t have to make us enemies. I have found that some of my best learning over the past years has come when I took the time and made a sincere effort to listen to another’s point of view. Often I have found my perspective changing as the reason of another person actually made sense to me.
Had the Constitution been written today, perhaps it would’ve read more like a recent blog post I read: “Sharing your opinion” doesn’t translate to “putting someone in a headlock until he or she agrees with you.” Being passionate about your views is admirable, but you should never expect anyone to abandon his or her own thoughts in favor of yours.
A recent poll released by the Washington Post-University of Maryland says that 71 percent of Americans think that the divide has “reached a dangerous low point” and is the “new normal.”
Where do we go from here?
Too often, we have lifted up our hands in despair; unfriended the critic on Facebook; and trolled, bullied or blocked followers on Twitter.
How often have we said: “What can I do to improve the tone?” or “What can I do to model the behavior I would like to see others emulate?”
We do not have to accept this divisive time as the “new normal,” and I would challenge readers to write letters to the editor (maximum 200 words) to share your views.
We will publish a selection of letters in our next installment of “Say What you Want!” A forum where you can express your thoughts without judgement.
“Say What you Want!”
Send your ideas, letters, comments, problems or whatever stirs the moment.
Submissions should be no more than 200 words. Please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
You do not need to include your name or contact information unless you would like us to share it.
Cultivate honor again
The secret to the United States becoming more civil is to recover the vanishing virtue of honor. People must be willing to be part of a counterculture movement restoring this forgotten, rare jewel today.
Honor is not mere respect, but it is manifest respect! It’s demonstrated when artists receive a standing ovation or when people rise upon a dignitary entering the chamber.
It’s become fashionable to disrespect authority, human life, our nation’s heroes and sacred institutions. Films like “Bad Mom’s Christmas” and “Daddy’s Home 2” trash parents. Comics disparage our president, and Snoop Dogg puts him dead on his cover.
On campuses and town hall meetings speakers are shouted down and events shut down. In colleges we have trouble hosting controversial speakers without interruption. People once honored speakers, even those with whom they disagreed.
Upholding the “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” Aretha Franklin cried out for in her classic song is all our duty in these turbulent times. Be intentional in cultivating a culture of honor in our society again.
Larry Norman, Tacoma WA
Focus on our common ground
In his 1952 presidential election concession speech Adlai Stevenson said, “That which unites us as American citizens is far greater than that which divides us as political parties.”
This truth is fundamental to American politics and reminds us the ability to civilly exchange ideas is key to democracy.
Our country is more politically divided than it’s been in generations, as evidenced by hyperpartisanship in Congress and statehouses across the country.
While citizens and their representatives do not need to agree on every issue to engage with one another, we need to focus on our common ground. Shared traditions, from religion to sports, can build personal relationships across political divides, leave enmity behind and make dialogue possible.
The holidays are here, and we are reminded that politics may divide even families and friends, but let it not stop us from joining together at the table to show that divisiveness is not the new normal.
Dr. Carolyn Lukensmeyer, executive director, National Institute for Civil Discourse, Tucson, AZ 85719
Take time to listen without response
The lack of civility in our society is due to the lost skill of listening. Webster defines “listen” as “to hear something with thoughtful attention.”
“Even if you don’t agree with the person, you will understand a bit more than before.”
Most people, when listening to someone, are thinking the entire time of how they will respond to what they are hearing. We need to just listen without thinking about responding.
Just listen to hear their words. Then think of what they said and why they said it. After taking a pause to think the conversation through, ask questions if needed.
Even if you don’t agree with the person, you will understand a bit more than before.
Tammy from Fraser
Politicians need to model civility
The first thing that must happen to set the stage for getting us past this era in which civility has all but disappeared from interactions among our elected leaders is for large numbers of members of both parties to really want more civility.
Almost all of them say they do, but the reality is that lack of it is too often used as an “arrow” in some of their “quivers.”
Negative, often even derogatory statements by one politician about another “go viral,” producing pressure in the media for a “response,” “implied subtleties” in that response are interpreted multiple ways by multiple media analysts, and boom — that “major story” is covered for days, maybe even weeks.
Result: lots of media exposure for all politicians on both sides, at no cost.
Unfortunately, coming up with an answer is much more difficult than recognizing this critical starting point (truly wanting more civility).
Chuck Jones, Winter Park