Saturday, July 30, 2016

The only political blog I will write all year – 2016 edition

In this most unusual of election years, we have a communications skills expert’s nightmare: one of the most divisive races in modern history, fueled by non-stop partisan talk radio, cable TV and social media.

I am pretty apolitical on the best of days, but this year in particular, the electoral process makes me feel the same way most women would probably feel if Bikini Babes of NASCAR was blaring on their TV 24/7. But people still do ask me to weigh in about politics, and while I wouldn't dream of telling you how to vote, I do have some thoughts about how to best approach this election. Here they are:

Use the outrage test. I have a simple rule for whether an issue should concern me: is the outrage bipartisan? If not, then it isn’t allowed to take up valuable space in my head. This simple rule automatically exempts me from Benghazi, Melenia Trump’s speech, Hilary’s emails, Trump steaks, and a whole host of other issues.

This is particularly true when (only) one side is going, “Oh, OH! Let’s investigate! Let's litigate! Let's prosecute!” When I hear people talk about jailing Hilary or blocking Trump from candidate security briefings, all I can do is roll my eyes and mutter to myself, “Holy 1998 impeachment, Batman.” Because these faux issues won’t give anyone a good job, improve our well-being or stop violence.

Real issues like the economy, health care, racial justice and the police, and terrorism raise strong opinions from both sides – and even if they disagree, it’s game on. But if one side is outraged and you are hearing crickets from the other side, move along.

Choose your sources. Do you form your political opinions – or worse, express them – through Facebook memes or partisan sources? Let me make a gentle suggestion. See what a more neutral source has to say first before you contribute to the political discourse. You might be surprised to learn that people actually do exaggerate things and distort facts – even in politics.

If you can’t do that, and reject the mainstream media the way many good zealots do, fine. At least do me this favor: check out the memes and articles that the other side is posting first. Then imagine that all of you were locked in a room, and couldn’t emerge until you reached consensus. What do you think the consensus might be? At least let that inform your posts and opinions.

Tune out the pundits. Political talk hosts on opposing sides are probably best friends off-camera. Why? Because they all engage in the same strategies: emotionally-charged language, fatuous arguments, one-sided facts, straw man arguments and ad hominin attacks.

Everyone criticizes commentators on the other side for doing it – but when I notice the same things with pundits on their side, people look at me like I have three heads. Yet they too are polarizing people and spreading half-truths. My gentle suggestion: don’t listen to jerks just because they are “our” jerk.

Listen to the other side. This is the most important advice one could give for this or any election – learn how the other side thinks. Listen to their candidates. Read their articles. Visit their social media pages. Because real problems are solved through dialogue and consensus. And that can only happen when both sides “get” each other first.

If you can’t frame the other person’s position as that of a totally reasonable person, you aren’t yet capable of advocating effectively for your side – you are limited to preaching to your own choir. Which, in my humble opinion, never changes anything.

This is especially true in this unusual election, where it seems like the more we vilify the opposition candidate, the more their poll numbers go up. I hope that when the dust settles on the 2016 campaign, its legacy is that we finally learn to listen to each other and solve problems together.

2 comments:

Ronald Leight said...

Sorry Rich, I'm with you all the way up to assuming the people on the other side are rational actors. Sometimes they're not. Those on the Republican side who are rational actors are mostly keeping their mouths shut to avoid the wrath of the mob. There's no arguing with people who can't even acknowledge that they have the wrong facts, or no facts, backing their argument, who hate just because they've been told they should. You can't argue with people who believe that science is a global communist conspiracy to undermine the American way. There's no point in having discussions with zealots, because unless you're a true believer, they can't hear you. (don't try to respond with gmail, I never check that account :) )

Rich Gallagher, LMFT said...

Hi Ron - thoughtfully put. I see your point, but from a slightly different direction.

I agree that some people are irrational or incapable of dialogue, especially if they are emotionally or politically overinvested about an issue. Both sides are often guilty of this. My point is that if you play back their view of the world, *as they see it*, well enough that their head is nodding up and down, you stand your very best chance of engaging them in dialogue. You don't have to agree with them - at all - or sugarcoat your own views. You simply have to get where they are coming from, and do it first.

Incidentally, this is a basic tenet of marriage and family therapy. I think the world would be a better place if everyone became an LMFT! Thanks Ron.