Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A Better World with More Kevins

I doubt anyone is very happy with the tone of political discourse today.  Certainly I am not, the press is likely not, the president is not and neither are most in Congress, possibly on both sides of the aisle.  And principally, the folks who read and write columns such as these are particularly disgusted.

Hiding behind icons, avatars and screen names, they are in no small way responsible for that; it is now very common to have profanity and ridicule as the norm in the Comments section of news articles.  I assume that the people who write that way are happy to have an outlet for their upset and their venom, but it is not a "happy" I would be comfortable with.

I have written a few times about my very liberal grand-niece, a Ph.D. candidate and Bernie Sanders supporter, and probably will be until she has to earn a living.  She is the child of conservatives, at least one set of grandparents were conservatives, including the surviving grandmother, and her grand-uncle and aunt are certainly conservatives.  We disagree with her on so many things.

But we are not able to communicate that.  The past few years, when the family was together, she would declare that she was not going to talk politics, although the rest of the clan certainly would.  She did not want to have the conversation.  I don't want to presuppose anything, or put words in her mouth, but it struck me that she did not feel capable of having a persuasive argument with people a generation or two her senior.

As I wrote once, I believe this is exacerbated by the associations on social media that such youngsters have, that evolve to where only like-minded people talk to each other.  My best girl closed her Facebook account recently, after posting a reasonably-presented counter to a relative's statement of assumed (leftist) fact, and being condemned for her opinion with venom far higher than imaginable, since her counter had been presented without anger at all.

That refusal of my grand-niece to engage at all is likely the exception to the rule, I fear.  More frequently, such encounters as with my best girl erupt into arguments that cannot be won once the anger rises to a certain point.

And so it was with great interest that I received a lengthy email from Kevin, a classmate in college, fraternity brother, and also a roommate for a year.  We had not especially kept up a great deal over the ensuing years, an occasional message but that was about it as we went through our respective careers.  I had not seen him for 40 years when we got together at our college reunion and spent some time at some of the scheduled events and talking with the other few brothers of our class who had attended.

Kevin's email brought up a piece I had written a few weeks ago, and was intended to ask if what I had written expressed a true feeling, or was rather a literary exaggeration-for-effect to make a point.  More importantly, it was indeed lengthy, and included several questions intended to break down the content I had written and get to what I was actually saying.

I think I can comfortably say that he felt differently from the way I did on that particular topic.  That fact is relevant, since for the first time in I-don't-know-when, there was the case of people disagreeing on a specific topic, actually asking the other person, ever so politely, to explain the root of their feelings in regard to that topic.  Now, I suspect that Kevin and I agree on other things, possibly many.  If memory serves, we were of a fairly common mind back in college, so although there was real difference on this issue, there might still be fundamental agreement on other areas.  Possibly, but I don't know.

It doesn't matter.  What does matter, and I hope you will apply this to your own daily dealings, is that differences on an issue were addressed by trying to understand the nature of the other's points.  Obviously therapy, such as marriage counseling, tries to get married couples to try to understand each other's perspectives, to listen, to ask, to try to divine the source of the other's opinion before trying to argue them out of it, and certainly before belittling them because of their view.

Let us imagine ... what kind of astronomically better world would we be living in, if it were populated far more by people who asked what lay behind your opinions, and far less by those quick to anger, quick to belittlement or, sadly, quick to avoid the discussion in the first place, lest they actually learn something from it.

I am strongly for the world with more Kevins in it.  And I will point out that since his initial inquiry, I did respond -- not quickly, though.  Thoughtful questions deserve thoughtful answers, and it took some real thought to get into the fundamentals behind my own opinion (!).  I didn't change my view, mind you, but I was able to clarify the connection between my experiences and my views, and communicate that.  We have had a slow and careful discussion on another issue, since.  And my first reaction is invariably how good and pleasant it is to talk about an issue without raising arms.

Good.  Pleasant.  Nice thoughts to get a week going.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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