Do you get flustered at how some people negatively respond to you when you attempt to make a point about a political issue? After all, all you’re trying to do is get your ideas across, but they react so defensively and don’t seem to listen. They seem to interrupt, barking back their opinions, or just shrug the whole thing off and walk away. Read More…
Up to now, the story of how liberals and conservatives engage in political discourse and problem solving has been marked by polarization, with questionable outcomes. Each side pushes its own agenda, thinking it has the answers to all the problems.
The question is whether this story has served us well? We face mounting problems, including the debt crisis, unemployment, environmental issues, energy dependency, food and water shortages, terrorism, war, and many others, which some have said will eventually lead to a perfect storm, if it hasn’t happened already. It becomes ever more doubtful that we can solve these problems within the context of our polarized, divisive mindset, which has lead to much of the present paralysis in Washington and has perhaps contributed to the problems.
One psychological theory holds that after we are born, we soon begin experiencing negativity. Those aspects of ourselves that don’t fit into our family dynamics become shamed or wounded.
To survive, we cope by disowning and disconnecting from those shamed or wounded aspects. However, those unwanted aspects don’t disappear. They submerge into the recesses of the subconscious, combining together to make up a large part of the shadow self. Polarization is a key attribute brought on by our submerged aspects, which attempt to communicate with us, so they can become expressed in our lives. Read More…
Since the time each of us was born, we have been faced with many challenges. Many of these challenges are natural to a life housed in a physical body on planet earth.
However, other challenges, which present themselves as problems or issues in our lives, are self-created and first appeared when our shadow self was formulated in the earliest days of our lives. It is these challenges, or problems, which I seek to address.
When this negative manifestation of self is not recognized and addressed for what it is, the underlying conditions are not effectively addressed, and so the problems or symptoms persist. Read More…
Polarization is rampant in our nation’s political discourse and affairs. Such a tug-of-war mentality suffocates effective and innovative solutions to our pressing problems and prevents our nation and planet from moving forward on a positive path. Instead, problems linger or reincarnate into “new” bigger problems.
Polarized politics is an extension of the same shadow self that exists within each one of us, who make up society. Polarization is a key symptom of the shadow self.
This psychological theory holds that after we are born, we soon begin experiencing negativity. Those aspects of ourselves that don’t fit into our family dynamics become shamed. Read More…
If the recent debt ceiling morass and unappetizing conclusion has taught us anything, it is how not to negotiate with those you disagree with. The solidity of the US financial market hung in the balance as politicians fought back and forth, reached and scrapped compromises and eventually signed a tepid debt ceiling increase on the last day before the US was predicted to default on its debt. The resulting historic downgrade of US creditworthiness by the S&P only demonstrates what a poor compromise can accomplish.
Many politicians claim that they are willing to reach out and meet their counterparts in the middle. We often here them say such things as, “let’s meet in the middle” or “let’s have a meeting of minds” or “let’s come together on this issue”. What is this middle they speak of, anyways, and what does it take to get there?
All too often, such statements as “meeting in the middle” have really meant nothing more than pursuing “middle of the road” solutions. In other words, they’ve sought to meet in the middle of the political spectrum, a no-man’s-land that unwilling politicians are forced to tread when they have no other choice. Often, the agreements that come from this place are insubstantial and leave both sides unhappy, discouraged and critical. Such was the case with the debt ceiling debate.
Some may argue that the outcome of the debt ceiling debate was not a compromise at all, since the Republicans got more of what they wanted, while the Democrats got less. After all, the Tea Party, along with the Republicans they support, would not budge on such items as tax increases for the wealthy or defense cuts. However, each side did make concessions in a last-ditch effort to come up with an agreement – a compromise of sorts, which no one was really happy with, and many believe will not do much to lower the debt.
So the question is whether each side in the debt ceiling debate could “meet in the middle” or “come together” in such as way that results in substantial reforms, which both parties can embrace and feel good about. Yes, if each side is willing to come up with viable options, which take into account the concerns of the other side, thus satisfying them in some way. In the debate that ensued, however, each side focused only on its own concerns, while minimizing or discarding those of the other side.
What were some of these concerns anyways? Democrats were concerned about preserving the integrity of entitlements, such as Medicare, while looking for defense cuts and tax increases to the rich. On the other hand, Republicans were concerned about preserving the integrity of defense and favorable tax conditions for the wealthy, while cutting entitlements. The lines were drawn and each side did not want to budge.
Positions were laid out in such black and white terms, that it seemed next to impossible whether anyone could reach a real negotiated outcome which had teeth and benefited both sides.
The result of the debt-ceiling crisis has only created more uncertainty and a sinking confidence among the electorate, along with lower poll numbers, for both the Congress and the executive branch. There were no winners in this contest, and when the politicians lose, so do the American people.
So, what if each side came back to the table with the intention of “meeting in the middle” or “coming together” in order to come up with viable solutions that could satisfy both sides and the public in some way. How would they have to proceed? The first step, as previously mentioned, would be to acknowledge the concerns of the other side. The next step would be for each side to avoid the “either-or” mentality of seeing everything in black and white terms, which limits conversation and choices.
For example, if Republicans are so unwilling to increase taxes on the rich, what instead if we zoom in on the “rich”, and become more detailed about who the rich really are. Are they monolithic? If not, then perhaps we can break them down into subgroups, thereby creating more options as to how we might raise taxes or cut loopholes on some or all of them.
If Democrats are so resistant to cutting entitlements, what instead, if we zoom in on “entitlements”, and get down to the nitty-gritty about what makes up these entitlements. Are they monolithic? If not, then perhaps we can break them down into subgroups, as in the case of identifying the rich, and thereby come up with more choices as to how we might cut entitlement spending.
Generalizations about the rich, or defense, or Medicare or other entitlements create “either-or” thinking, which is both unrealistic and prevents innovative or creative solutions from coming forth. Zooming in on the details creates more choices and better solutions.
I think it’s time to rehabilitate political compromises or negotiated outcomes and turn it from a war zone where each combatant limps away with a pyrrhic victory into a cool café lounge where both sides have a true meeting of minds, sip on some hot lattes and talk to each other like grownups who both want to get to the same place.
This not only applies to policy makers on Capitol Hill, but to anyone who engages in discussion, no matter how casual. Next time we get into a discussion: 1) let’s consider one another’s concerns, and 2) avoid the “either-or” thinking of seeing everything only in black and white. Rather, let’s take a closer look at the various aspects and nuances of the debate. In so doing will more options naturally arise, sometimes unexpectedly, resulting in a better outcome for all.
If you ever took a speech and debate class in school, you may remember that debates were constructed and performed based on a strict format. A specific topic was given to the debaters. One side took the affirmative and the other side took the negative. Each side would be allowed to state their case, illuminating specific points and data that supported their argument. A cross examination would then be allowed followed by rebuttals.
In the real world, debates are not so formulaic. Topics rise organically and evolve as speakers feel each other out and claim the ground of their ideals. Often, a specific point of argument is not even clearly defined before each side starts stating their case. This leads to a confused conversation that often accomplishes nothing.
While it is unrealistic to expect everyone to start acting like professional debaters by providing clear, well-supported arguments, I think we can learn something from the debate culture that can help us laypeople engage in more productive communication with one another.
Clarify the Issue
Most conversations don’t start out with a direct question, such as: “Should the United States Update its Immigration policy?”
Instead, the topics shift with the natural flow of conversation. One minute you could be talking about Katy Perry’s new hairstyle, and the next about whether or not censorship should be allowed on television. The key to engaging in a constructive debate is to clarify the issue or topic once it arises.
You don’t actually have to say the topic out loud, but do keep it fixed in your head, so if the argument starts to drift in a different direction, you can pull it back.
Debaters know that they must stay on topic or risk inviting the wrath of the debate judges. Conversationalists in the real world do not operate under such strict guidelines. Instead, the train of a natural conversation has the tendency to jump to different tracks or even to change direction entirely.
Jumping tracks and changing directions causes confusion and dilutes the power and momentum of the argument. It can break down the progression of a debate or even divert it entirely so that a solution or agreement is never reached.
For instance, it’s hard to discuss the merits of immigration reform when the conversation switches to teaching Spanish in schools or whether or not a certain politician’s cleaning staff is legal. This is why it’s so crucial to define the topic of the conversation and to keep it in mind. Once you feel the conversation drifting away, gently nudge it back onto the right track. It can be as easy as saying, “yeah, I understand what you’re saying, but going back to immigration reform, that doesn’t exactly address the point I made.”
Avoid Direct Attacks
Many well-intentioned conversations are sunk when one side or the other resorts to emotional attacks. When a topic of strong personal interest or concern is debated, emotional attacks can result, especially if one side is at a loss for an adequate rebuttal.
Any type of emotional attack or other form of logical fallacy (irrelevant arguments that debaters are trained to avoid) is conversation poison. Once a side starts accusing bias, criticizing the intelligence of the other side or making exaggerated claims, it’s up to you to bring the conversation back to rational ground before it disintegrates into an angry confrontation that will only result in hurt feelings.
In the end, staying on topic will help focus a conversation so that it does not drift into irrelevant territory or into unhelpful personal attacks. Staying on topic will also help both sides thoroughly explore the different points of contention and, hopefully, come to a deeper understanding and appreciation of