Tri-County News

Can we find some civility?Free Access

Jean Doran Matua – From the Heart

The United States of America has faced presidential elections for nearly 250 years, and we survived. Some were highly contentious. Some were boring. Most are pretty much lost to history.

I would dare say, however, that no historic election has been as divisive as this year’s presidential election is heading.

A core problem, in my opinion, is our tendency to see everyone with views other than our own as the enemy. It’s turned into an “us” or “them”, zero-sum situation. “I’m right, therefore you’re completely wrong.” “If you get “x”, then you’re taking “y” away from me.” “If you are a [insert political party here], then you are an extremist just like the rest of them.”

None of these things can be true in real life. Yet we so quickly perpetuate them.

In reality, we have so much more in common than we have differences. Nearly all of us want the same things: a happy and peaceful life, a decent home in which to live, education and opportunities for our children, respectful care for our elders and veterans, productive work at livable wages, health care for our families, the right to practice (or not practice) the religion of our choice, a system of law enforcement and justice that protects our individual rights against those who would harm us, and the dream of being able to enjoy vacations and hobbies and other entertainments.

Our dreams and goals are really the same. It is only the methods to reach them that differs.

Think about it.

Over the past 10 years or so, however, our society has increasingly become divided, and we see things more and more as only black or white, metaphorically speaking. If one thing is good, all else must then be bad. If I agree with this political party, then the other one must be pure evil. If so-and-so said such-and-such, I must accept or reject what is said based on whether I like the person who said it.

Not only are we divided, but we tend to push everyone to the “extreme” of any issue. Neither political party has the lead on encouraging this behavior. They add words like “radical” and “extremist” when mentioning any person of the opposite party. We can’t all be “extreme,” and we aren’t. Those who are at the extreme edge of either political party are a very small minority. Nearly all of us are somewhere between those two extremes.

We know this is true, and yet we tend to follow the pack. If not verbally, at least in thought.

Americans are impatient. We now have microwaves to cook our food quickly, but they aren’t fast enough. We can order things over the Internet and get them the next day, but that isn’t fast enough either. We instantly assign “enemy” status to everyone who we think may disagree with us. It’s so much easier than having a discussion, learning more about who they are and what they believe on a range of subjects. And too many politicians encourage this! Once an “enemy,” always an enemy. And so our lives are greatly diminished, and yet oddly simpler.

Hear me out on this, though, please. Wouldn’t our lives be both less lonely and more interesting if we could actually have conversations with each other again? That requires both sides of said conversation to let down their guard, and to consider the other person to be something other than enemy. We may never “win the other person over,” but that’s not the goal. The real goal is maintaining civility toward each other, being willing to hear each other out on various issues without resorting to name-calling or storming away. We will rarely agree on everything with another person, but we can always be civil and kind. And understanding of why they believe the way they do can only come from having discussions about them.

We are all community, like it or not. We have to get along, on both big and little things. Ten years from now, we’ll have forgotten who said what (politically). But we will still be neighbors and, I certainly hope, friends.

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