I’m a politics junky. Fascinated by it. I’d run for office if I wouldn’t have to lie about just about everything I believe in order to get elected. But I do love to consume political information.
In 2003-4 I listened to 6 months of conservative talk radio followed by 6 months of liberal talk radio in the run up to the election. I don’t recommend that.
But I do recommend this interesting article about how to read politics in 2013. In a non-election year Douthat argues we should all take out subscriptions to magazines on the opposite side of the political fence from us. We would learn. We’d open our minds. We’d build a little understanding.
Or we’d get more cantankerous than ever.
Call this my Lessons From Retreat series.
I recently returned from 4 days with 65 authors from my publisher whose mission is “Creating a World that Works for All.” This is a caring, compassionate, activist, spiritual, world-changing, amazing community.
Linda Stout, whose work is getting people from opposite ends of political divides to engage in civil discourse, taught me there are three ways to approach polarized discussions, only one of which works.
- Knowing. We come in with certainty about who the other person is, what they believe, why they are the way they are.
- Wanting. We come in with desire to change the other person, to shift them out of their mistaken views to our superior way of thinking.
- Learning. We come in with curiosity to listen and understand the needs and hopes of the other.
Hopefully it is self evident that the third path is the effective one – and much needed these days.
An idea for politics:
Our primaries look like this: members of the same party compete to win their party’s nomination to appear on the ballot in the general election. Because it is mostly the extreme members of the party who show up to vote in primaries, it is mostly the most extreme candidates who make it to the general election. The majority of people who exist in the middle are then widely disappointed in the choices.
What if our primaries looked like this: one member from each party had to partner with a member from the other party. These pairs would present a list of legislation that they would both support and a list of issues on which they disagree. We then hold a primary in which everyone can vote to determine which pair of candidates gets placed on the general election ballot to compete against one another. The pair with the greatest commonality of legislation to move the country forward would be best positioned to win. Thus, we would have fewer extremists on both sides on the final ballot and more collaboration between parties before, during, and after the elections.
Now that may be unrealistic in our political system, but there is a fundamental lesson for business and life. Our problem solving and communication systems are often designed to accentuate our differences and prevent us from examining in detail where we agree before launching into critiques. And what a different world it would be if we started every challenge off with how similar we are.
In the wake of the Aurora shootings there has been a lot of talk about gun control, but one article particularly struck me. The thesis is that gun lobbyists count on us losing interest once this news story fades. So by the time the legislation comes due for a vote the only people applying pressure are the extremists (on either side of the topic). And the extremists with the bigger budget often win out, particularly if the public isn’t paying any attention.
But what if all the moderates and centrists made their voices heard? And not just on gun issues. Pick your favorite issue. Write to your Congressperson, Senator, and/or President.
But don’t just do it today.
What if we each wrote once a week?
The sad thing is that we do the work every week already. We just do it in the wrong place.
Look at Facebook on any given day and you’ll see political talk all over the place. We argue back and forth, sometimes foaming at the mouth at how frustrating it is that politicians don’t do what’s right. The whole time we could just copy and paste those same messages to send to our politicians.
It’s a 5-minute exercise. I’m going to do it every Monday with my kids. We’ll pick an issue and write a quick note and copy it to our Congressperson, Senator, and the White House.
What if all the moderates did the same?
This is going to sound very similar to another recent post, but I feel this topic is worth repeating, especially as we head into the big election. A reader recently commented:
Noah, how do we respond artfully to persons reciting false political information? I do not wish to discuss politics with people incapable of talking in a normal tone of voice. I actually told the last person that when they could speak respectfully in a normal tone of voice I would be happy to continue the conversation.
So here are the rules to follow.
- If the person has decided, if they know who they will vote for, if they are certain which candidate is better, then smile, nod, and walk away. You can’t change their opinion. Don’t try.
- If the person seems decided but you still think they are reasonable and could change their minds, see rule #1.
- If you can’t handle rules #1 and #2, still walk away but email them later with the links to your favorite politics fact checking websites. It won’t actually change their views, but it’ll be better for your blood pressure than engaging in the conversation. (Incidentally, some fact check options: snopes, factcheck, politifact, fact-checker.)
If this sounds a bit pessimistic, consider the cost/benefit of these conversations. How many opinions will you change? Everything I’ve ever heard or read on this says that changing others’ opinions in politics is near impossible. How much will your blood pressure rise?
I’m all for political action. But changing the votes (or even the understanding of reality) of people who have already decided is a losing proposition.
Friends of mine went to Florida to help campaign during the 2008 election. In describing their training for going door to door they said they were instructed to begin by asking if the person had made a decision yet.
If the person had decided for their candidate, great. Thank the person. Leave some literature. Move on.
If the person had decided for the other candidate, okay. Thank the person. Move on.
If the person was undecided. Stay a while. That was where the important conversation could be had.
You often can’t sway people with a strong opinion on a topic, no matter how brilliant your idea or argument. The challenge isn’t improving your argument. It’s locating the people who can be influenced.
If you don’t already know, your internet experience is filtered. Your google search turns up different results than mine. If you tend to click through to MSNBC then liberal and left leaning links will pop up on your search. Fox watcher? You’ll get news from the right.
Result? We don’t get our views challenged. We reinforce what we already believe and we become ever more polarized.
Here’s a cool solution (for news filtering and other) – Flipboard.
This cool and free little app enables you to quickly and easily bounce from The Economist to Al Jazeera to Salon to The Washington Post to 30 other news outlets. Pick a different one every day.
Your head might spin, but the bubble will burst. And who knows where that open-mindedness might lead?