Though much of our political discourse is toxic, “politics” itself is not a dirty word. It’s the ancient and honorable effort to come together across our differences and create a community in which the weak as well as the strong flourish, love and power collaborate, and justice and mercy have their day.
Yes, that’s a vision of politics that will never be fully achieved. But every time someone abandons that vision and turns to cynicism, democracy suffers one more wound in the death of a thousand cuts. Yes, Big Money is a Big Problem. But, as journalist Bill Moyers has said:
“The antidote, the only antidote, to the power of organized money in Washington is the power of organized people.”
Yes, the divide-and-conquer tactics deployed against us are powerful and unrelenting, but their success requires our collaboration. If we reject them in favor of Martin Luther King Jr.’s timeless vision of the Beloved Community, the tactics will fail.
Just as democracy can die a death of a thousand cuts, it can be given new life by a thousand acts of civility. As Wendell Berry reminds us, there are no big fixes to big problems, only a lot of little ones. Here are few ways we can play our small but vital roles in healing a wounded body politic.
1. Remember that “civility” in political discourse is not primarily about watching our tongues and minding our manners. It’s about valuing our differences, knowing that only through the creative conflict of ideas has the human race ever accomplished great things. Under the right conditions, all of us together are smarter than any one of us alone.
2. Understand that it’s more important to be in right relationship than it is to be right. This does not mean compromising your convictions for the sake of “niceness.” It means holding your differences with others in a way that can sustain dialogue over time, giving everyone a chance to speak, listen, and learn. The issues that divide us are complex; if we don’t hang in with each other long enough to sort them out we will never get anywhere near the best solutions.
3. Next time you talk with people who hold political beliefs that set your teeth on edge, turn from ire to inquiry. Ask them honest, open questions that allow you to learn something about their lives and help you understand why they believe what they do. The more you know about other people’s stories, the harder it is to dislike, distrust, or demonize them. Be prepared to tell your story, too.
4. If you’re active in a religious congregation, keep asking if it is truly safe for diversity. This means not only visible diversity but the invisible forms of “otherness” (from political persuasions to sexual orientations) that exist among people who look alike. Remember what the writer Anne Lamott once said:
“You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates the same people you do.”
5. If you find yourself in a situation where someone is demeaning people who are “different,” don’t remain silent and don’t pick a fight. Say, very simply, “Those words are personally hurtful to me. I want to live in a world where we respect one another.” But say it only if you honestly feel connected with whoever is being demeaned because you know we’re all in this together.
(Source, On Being)
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Note: What Parker Palmer says here is valid not only for the United States, but for everuwhere in the world. I wish we would all, including myself, abide by these rules. Lord, have mercy!