Sunday, November 4, 2012

Political Civility

This week isn't going to be easy. Yes, the election will be here and by that I mean OVER. But no matter who wins, a bunch of people are going to mad. And based on the past four years (it feels like) of the campaign, I can pretty much guarantee that neither the winners nor the losers are going to be civil. I don't know what it is, but civility seems to be a thing of the past in American politics.

Politics have always been nasty - I'm  not trying to say that's a new thing. In fact, in 1836 Davy Crocket (a congressman and known coon-skin hat wearer) accused Martin Van Buren of wearing women's clothing. He said, "He's laced up in corsets!" (source) In 1828, a Republican (actually "Whig") pamphlet against Andrew Jackson accused him of being, "a gambler, a cock fighter, a slave trader, and the husband of a really fat wife." (source) Rude. 

But among friends, the rule has generally been to not talk about politics or religion in social settings. My mom tells me that when she was growing up, that was the agreed upon rule. A friend told me the other day that she'd rather NOT know who people are voting for! She'd be fine with it all being more civil and quiet. But that's just not how it is anymore. 

I blame social media. You post a picture that says "My guy is smart, yours is dumb" or "my guy is good, yours is evil" or "my views are correct, yours are wrong" or "I'm smart, you're dumb nah nah nah nah nah nah." And when you click on "post" you don't really think about who specifically is going to be reading that, or how they might feel. Or maybe you feel justified. Or maybe (if it's a particularly mean post), you're just a bully. I don't know. But I do know that when you are not looking in the face of the person reading what you're posting, it is much easier to post hurtful, mean spirited, un-researched, political opinions. 

Not that all posts are like that. In fact, I am friends with a woman on Facebook whose views are very different than mine. She posts quite often about her views. But she is very civil, and very sincere. She never offends me, though our opinions are vastly different. She, however, is one of the few I've seen who can manage this civil social media discourse. 

In fact, I made a graphic showing what politics (not just in social media, but in general) looks like to me this political season:

So, how can we be more civil? I've been listening to (and partaking in) a lot of discussions this past week on this topic and I'll share some thoughts I have on the subject:

1. Before you click "post" on Twitter or Facebook, picture your friends and family who are you going to read it. Would you show it to them if they were at your house? Do you think it would offend them? Do you want to offend them? Do you believe it will start a civil conversation or one with anger and hurt feelings?

2. If someone posts something you disagree with, think about it before you react. Are they trying to anger the people reading it? Or are they trying to start a civil conversation? Will responding with anger make you feel better or worse? If it will make you feel worse, simply walk away from it.

3. Do you want to change people's minds? Do you truly believe that is possible? Or is it more important to understand where people are coming from? We all come from such different backgrounds. Could it be possible that your friend or family member who has different political beliefs could have arrived at those beliefs because of his or her background/education/experiences  and not by ignorance? And is it possible that they are not dumb or wrong, but are simply approaching the situation from a different place?

4. Do you truly care what your friend's political leanings are? Does if affect how you see them? If so, why? 

5. My last thought is this: most people are sincerely trying to do what they think is right. Name calling and shouting will never bring us closer together. And we won't be able to change most people's minds. But that's ok because that's the way it's meant to be. It's more fun to have diversity of thought. So instead of trying to change people, what about listening instead? What about trying to understand where they are coming from? Or if worse comes to worse, maybe just change the subject. ;)

What are your thoughts? How can we encourage more civility? 

Good luck this week, fellow Americans. Oh, and please vote! It's a privilege and something we shouldn't take lightly!


Sara said...

I have a friend from Germany who thinks that it's very American to not want to talk about politics. She thinks it's very strange. She says German families and friends regularly sit around and talk politics, and whenever she brings it up with friends here it seems like they are uncomfortable. Maybe it's our culture of not talking about politics in person that leads people to post about it online instead.

Katherine said...

This post is so well-written!!! I completely agree. We need to be more civil and willing to listen to others instead of just jumping to conclusions and saying hurtful things. Bickering and snapping at people who have different views will not bring us anywhere. Thanks for writing this!!!

Katherine said...

P.S. That graphic is completely accurate. :)

Elizabeth Downie said...

Maybe because we are not used to talking about it, we haven't learned how to do so effectively? I was listening to a piece on NPR today about how the town meetings in New Hampshire have changed so much in the past some-odd years. They used to have a swear jar to encourage respect and civility and now-a-days everyone is just yelling at each other.

Kristen said...

Well said. So many problems (like this one) could be solved by people thinking before they act. Putting yourself in others' shoes is one thing I feel is totally missing in politics. And another thing that would help? Not bringing it up inappropriately over the pulpit. Good idea: encouraging people in church to vote. Bad idea: telling people that the outcome of this presidential election will affect us until the Second Coming. Really? That almost crossed the church's clearly delineated political neutrality line.

Elizabeth Downie said...

Oh my goodness, Kristen! That definitely crosses a line! I would have had to laugh out loud. A friend was joking with me today that he was going to go up to the pulpit in testimony meeting and say, "I know Mitt Romney is true." Sounds like someone basically said that at your meeting.

That is HUGELY inappropriate!

michelle williams said...

On the morning of fast Sunday a radio commentator (local or National, I don't know) announced that Mormons were asked to fast and pray for Romney to win the election. Our Bishop heard the broadcast and made a point at the beginning of our Fast and Testimony meeting that, our Church doesn't advocate for any political party and then read the handbook on that subject to the congregation. I was impressed, especially since I know he's a Romney fan.

My sister keeps wanting to change my vote and called multiple times to "discuss" politics, mostly she hoped to show me how ignorant I am. If I disagreed and made a counter point she started yelling at me. So I asked her to not bring up politics, I didn't want it to ruin our friendship. She then started calling my children and would yell at them too and wrote a draft of a letter for extended family that started with, "I am deeply offended by the family", who basically weren't voting her way. Fortunately she decided not to send it! LOL we all love her anyway! But I am ready for a decision to me made and done with. Be sure to vote!

Nate Stamper said...

Great piece Elizabeth! You always impress me.

I, myself, have stopped posting political thoughts on FB. The main reason being because I always walked away, from a discussion, not feeling good about the person I was speaking with.
Then, I realized quite simply, that my research, my studying of the political issues, my leanings in morality or perceived lack thereof, my opinions and experiences and paradigm are MINE and mine alone.
Not one person that I've had political conversations with, in anger or contention, has EVER 'changed' their minds to see my point of view.
In all fairness, however, I believe that most people do have good intentions when they post their opinions. Vile as some of these cheesy one liners may be, most people believe that these online posters encapulate some 'unknown' truth that the other side just doesn't 'get.' All in all, I've found that, especially in this election, the learning about the candidates, the prayerful studying of the issues and the change in my own opinion toward others, has been a study in self control, rather than a study of judging others' political opinions--but most importantly, I've come to the realization that the man upstairs is in control and that I need to be more 'in control' of myself as I grow up and respect others agency and opinions, as I would hope that they would respect mine.

lizzie mc.- said...

Lots of good points by all. I absolutely, positively agree with a neeed to be open and more importantly civil. What ever happened to, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." Perhaps it's a matter of not having openness that has led to voting along party lines. Perhaps there's a lack of civility because we are more transient in general. It's one of the things that draws me to your neck of the woods. Thanks for such a well-written post!

Elizabeth Downie said...

Thank you for your comments! I love all of your insights.

Nate, I think you're totally right when you say, "Vile as some of these cheesy one liners may be, most people believe that these online posters encapsulate some 'unknown' truth that the other side just doesn't 'get.'"

Good point.

Kristin McElderry said...

thank you for your post! Absolutely what has been on my mind lately. I am feeling MAJOR anxiety over tomorrow just because of the incredible enmity that will be present. I think I am just going to avoid social media altogether.

Unknown said...

Diversity of thought and tolerance. Your Dad and I learned about both while sitting at the dinner table with your Seventh Day Adventist Grandmother and your Mormon Grandfather ; said your agnostic uncle.

Mark said...

I think we need to talk about politics, because that's how we learn about how other people's views. I agree that we, as Americans do a poor job of discussing differences of opinion civily. Opting to not talk about our differences is a temporary cop-out that works at a cocktail party or Thanksgiving dinner, but doesn't move us closer to solving problems.

Imagine a disagreement with your spouse as to whether you were going to spank your kids or not. You can't effectively put off that descision refusing to talk about it. Eventually Junior is going to shoot the neighbor's cat and something will have to be done.

Unfortunately this is how we are dealing with our political differences. As the majority of the country avoids difficult discussions, only the crazies at either end of the spectrum talk. And since they get paid not to inform us, but to entertain us, the message is usually inflamatory.

We can talk about politics if we are willing to listen. Then maybe I can discuss propositions with Elizabeth without getting slapped.

Elizabeth Downie said...

I agree Mark, we need to be able to discuss things so we can understand each other better and learn more. I suppose what I was really trying to encourage in this post is civil conversation. I enjoy political conversations with friends who can keep it civil.

It's when there's a lack of respect that I get offended and find it to be less than helpful.

And I've never slapped anyone (yet) during a political conversation. Ha!

Mark said...

My dear Elizabeth, it was the nature of the proposition that gets me slapped. Perhaps I should stick to proposals.

Liz said...

I don't vote. I know somewhere Elizabeth Caddy Stanton and Susan B Anthony are rolling over in their graves. But I'm ok with that.