“We have seen our discourse degrade by casual cruelty. Arguments turn too easily to animosity. Disagreement escalates into dehumanization” George W. Bush
Last week the University of Delaware, as part of its National Agenda Speaker Series, held a forum with former Vice President Joe Biden and former House member and current Governor of Ohio John Kasich. The two men share blue collar backgrounds, both served in Congress and both have run for president. Yet the political parties they belong to currently find themselves in antagonistic opposition, which makes it even more important how civil and thoughtful their conversation was.
The President of the University, Dennis Assanis, set the tone for the discussion in his opening remarks “We’re so focused on our differences that we forget our common goal. Our country needs all of us…to work with each other, to work together.” And Biden and Kasich, who have differences on a number of policy issues, focused on their common goals. As Biden noted “We both believe strongly in the capacity of the American people (and that) personal relationships matter.” And Kasich added that “the system itself has been breaking down on base politics…The whole system is polarizing.” It was refreshing to hear two veteran statesmen civilly talk about — not argue, yell or name call — the current state of our political system.
Also last week, the latest Marist Poll was released which found that 66% of those polled think “angry” is the appropriate term to describe the political dialogue in this country and only 11% of Americans think positive political discourse is the norm these days. This reaffirmed the state of affairs, as discussed by Biden and Kasich, but the issue remains, what are we doing about it?
First of all we need to start holding our elected officials — whether they serve on the city council, the state legislature or in the US Congress — accountable for their words as well as their actions. The men and women we elect to represent us do us all a disservice when they turn a debate into an argument and end up sounding like two children fighting on the playground.
They need to start using their words, as mothers around the world remind their children, to express their thoughts. We can all agree to disagree but screaming about something doesn’t make anyone more likely to agree with you and is almost certain to get them to tune you out.
It is fine to disagree on an issue — we see the world differently based on our life experience, and that is bound to happen. The real issue is HOW we express our disagreement. Let’s start by asking questions to help better understand where someone else is coming from, and then sharing why we think the way we do on the issue. Sometimes we are not going to be able reach agreement and that is fine as long as it doesn’t mean we will stop talking to each other or stop working together. We can search for other areas on which to find common ground and work together.