Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Getting Through the Election - And Other Prickly Issues

We're seeing our share of verbal fistfights in the pro-Romney/pro-Obama supporters right now.

Nasty commercials. (On both sides.)

Even nastier accusations. (Again - both sides.)

And there we are -- right in the middle.

It's not just them, either. I've had to fight my way through other people - groups and organizations -  who disagree with each other. It's worst when members of the same group -- people you normally respect and admire -- go to arguing, then insulting, then move on to downright enmity.
    What usually happens? A huge fight that proves nothing. A church split right down the middle. A group that accomplishes little, because it's so busy putting its energy into drawing battle lines.
    Nothing good comes of it, either. The opposing group doesn't change its mind. (You certainly wouldn't!) Hurt feelings, harsh accusations and a generally bad taste in the mouth.

 I recently came across this comment from Randy Cohen's book, Be Good: How to Navigate the Ethics of Everything.
     Cohen wrote a column called "The Ethicist" twelve years for the Washington Post. "Readers will endure - will welcome - views unlike their own if those ideas are expressed without contempt," he says. "I tried to make the column a place where people could argue amiably, could disagree without discourtesy."

   "For the first few years of the column, I tended to respond in-kind to angry e-mail. (I suspect many of us have a tendency to treat others as they treat us, for good or ill.) When I received a particularly hateful screed, insulting, ad hominem, SHOUTING AT ME IN ALL CAPS, I would think, You call that vicious? It's amateur work. I am a trained professional; I can compose something a hundred times more venomous. And I would.
    ...When I sent one of my tormenters a savage response, I felt great. It is a pleasure to thrash a bully. (And by "bully," I mean anyone who is unkind to me.) But it is an ineffectual pleasure, one that solidifies disagreement, makes enduring enemies, changes nobody's thinking, garners no dinner invitations. And so eventually I forsook the pleasures of the punch-up for another strategy: a soft answer turneth away wrath.
[Yes, he's quoting Proverbs in the Bible. No, he's not religious.]
    Turns out, it doth.
    I began ignoring the tone of even the angriest e-mails and responding courteously to the sense of it. Just as an experiment. Often, even the author of a barbarous e-mail would then reply politely. Sometimes he'd apologize for his initial intemperance. My first, unworthy, though, I'd hit upon a cunning way to make my tormenter feel guilty while I seized the moral high ground. Brilliant!


What if all the sides actually agreed to work with each other, even if they disagreed? 


We might actually get something accomplished. 



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Getting Through Life (And This Week)

In a few days, it will be better. Really.