Sunday, March 08, 2009

Let's just assume you're not an idiot...

I have this new idea for political discussions. I think it's exciting and wonderful and regrettably novel in the present climate. Ready? Here goes. Let's assume that people of differing opinions are 1) not stupid and 2) not evil. It just seems to me that if we made such an assumption, then maybe we could actually benefit from multiple points of view instead of slamming our heads into the collective walls of each others disagreement. That last sentence, by the way, was quite a twisted metaphor wasn't it? "collective walls of each others disagreement?" What am I smoking. Anyway.

I have occasion, in my life, to hear what the other "political side" has to say, usually in the media. And when I do it comes across almost always as incredibly derisive, parsimonious, and polemical. It consists of saying "they're dumb and here's why" in lots and lots of ways. Now, being on "the other side" I usually totally disagree with almost everything I hear on these venues (*ahem* Fox news *ahem*). But that's not actually the point. I don't mind disagreeing. The point, rather, is that you can't have a discussion when all someone is saying is "they're an idiot" or "you're an idiot." You can have a fight, perhaps you can have "a debate," but you can't productively discuss crap. Now maybe the news isn't trying to have a discussion, but so often when I hear people (politicians or real people) talking politics it's the same stuff "They're dumb, misguided, greedy, naive, power-mad, bleeding-heart, or whatever." All of which just strikes me as insanely nonproductive.

I really do like to assume that people have good reasons for the things they believe, and that many (not all) people have good intentions. And I do like to believe that those people fall on all sides of political debates. And so what should be interesting, even fascinating, is understanding how people with similar intelligence and basically decent motives can end up with such different ideas. but we so rarely get to try to look at that because we're too busy either trying to convince one side that no, we are not idiots or that yes, they indeed are idiots.

In my experience, two things get in the way of having an open conversation where I'm not assuming "the other side" is insane. First, it's hard. I do tend to assume when someone disagrees with me they just don't get it, or don't value things as I do, and so they must be idiots. So I have to overcome that in myself. The other is that even when I'm trying really hard to take this kind of collaborative stance, a lot of times (not always) the other folks are not. There's nothing like trying very hard to not be attacking, or to hear what someone is saying in a real way, only to find that they in turn don't want to hear a word you have to say.

All of which gets just incredibly discouraging. So I thought I'd whine about it here. Well done Shifter, well done.

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