Relationships

Let’s be civil, even in a contentious election season

A contentious election season can bring out the worst in us, but it provides us with a lesson for any time: Embrace similarity and be decent to others, especially when they have different viewpoints

Special to The TribuneOctober 5, 2012 

Last Friday, I attended the debate between Lois Capps and Abel Maldonado sponsored by The Tribune. I’ve respected and followed both politicians for years. I wanted to hear what they had to say so I could ultimately decide how to vote.

It seems I was in the minority.

Supporters on both sides were far more intent on rallying their causes than on listening to the politicians talk. When the candidates were introduced, some followers stood up and raucously cheered, encouraging others in the audience to follow suit. If they disagreed with a candidate’s statement, they shamelessly booed or laughed.

The debate moderators, members of the League of Women Voters, did their best to control the crowd. Still, the hostility was relentless and filled the room like secondhand smoke.

I must admit, I quickly chose my favorite. I soon knew where my “X” was going to go. But I never felt a need to demean the other candidate. That seemed completely uncalled for in a civilized debate.

In fact, democracy requires that rules of decorum be upheld. If we’re going to discuss how best to handle the problems we face as a community or as a nation, we need to do so in a courteous way. If we don’t, chaos quickly ensues. We stop focusing on the issues and instead beat each other to an emotional pulp.

What happens, especially during elections, is that relationships assume a boo-hiss persona, where folks from opposing parties feel it’s their right to be surly and rude. They rationalize, “He’s an idiot! I don’t have to be polite.” Then they proceed along their degrading path.

The truth is that we all view the world through different lenses. We arrived in this country via different avenues, and we celebrate holidays that are uniquely our own. Our differences don’t have to divide us. They’re merely descriptors, like freckled skin or curly hair.

The ultimate chasm is our lack of civility, the inner voice that says, “I can’t like you. You think differently than I do.”

Instead of berating folks from different viewpoints, we should focus on how we’re similar. We all want to care for our children and pay the rent. We want to feel safe. We want to engage in self-satisfying pursuits. Yes, we may follow different roadmaps. Eventually we wind up at the same place.

HOW TO BE MORE CIVIL IN THE FACE OF DISAGREEMENT

• Remember your manners. We all know the basic please-and-thank-you rules. Now is the time to put them to good use. Your behavior sets an example for others to follow.

• Carefully choose your words. Words pack a powerful punch. They can make others feel safe and admired. Or they can be instantly degrading and pernicious. Select words that demonstrate high regard for your opponent. Avoid all forms of namecalling or put-downs.

• Honor the other’s right to hold different viewpoints. It’s OK that you disagree. That doesn’t mean your opponent is less worthy.

• Find common ground. You’re probably alike in more ways than you’re different. When you highlight similarities you promote a stronger bond and feel more simpatico.

• Back away from heated discussion. The best way to avoid an argument is not to have one. If you sense that things are heating up, say, “Hey, this is getting too intense. We certainly don’t need to fight about this.” Then change to a more pleasant subject or walk away.

• Problem-solve in a neutral manner. Sometimes we have to resolve a tough issue with someone of a different stripe. To do so, identify the topic. Agree that it’s a challenging subject. Express your willingness to reach a compromise. Devise a few workable solutions. Keep your emotions at bay.

• Control your temper. Anger is the death knell for civil interactions. It signifies you’re out of control. The issue is no longer neutral, it’s charged with negative juju. Nothing will get resolved until you’ve settled down.

• Share the stage. Let others express their sentiments. Give them equal air space. Talking over them means you’re not listening and says, “I’m more important than you.”

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit http://lindalewisgriffith.com.

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