May 17, 2018
Imagine how our state of public discourse could change with just a slight shift in how we engage in political debate.
At a candidate debate in 2020, the first question from the moderator is, “Mr. Alexander, how well do you know Ms. Castro?” And, Mr. Alexander says: “Well, I know Linda fairly well. We made a point of getting together a couple of times early in the campaign to get to know each other. I have met her family, I have learned about her career, and I know what she really care about.”
The moderator turns to Ms. Castro and asks the same question. And, she says: “I have really enjoyed getting to know Pete. We decided together at the very beginning that we wanted our political discourse to be positive, to stick to the issues, so we took the time to get to know each other before we got caught up in the campaign. I know what matters to Pete; in fact, I even know about what he holds to be sacred in his life.”
Why could this not be a true story?
We can shift the state of political discourse one step at a time.
Imagine Linda Castro wins the election, and her first action as a legislator is to take the time to sit down with as many of her colleagues as possible and really get to know them. And they, in turn, take the time to get to know her. They have a shared desire to get to know each other very well before the first difficult issue comes their way. And, when it does, and the public debate starts, they are able to listen beyond the words, knowing what really matters to the person speaking.
In response to an opponent’s argument, Linda says: “I am wondering if you are taking this position because of what you told me about your work history. If so, I appreciate that your work experience informed your position, and I would appreciate it if you would sit down with me so that I can share what experiences have informed my view. Maybe when we do so, we can work toward a compromise.”
Our intentions, and the words that flow from our intention, have the power to create, or destroy. When we pause before speaking in response to another’s words, and consider why the person may have said what they just said, our response is sure to be different than if we don’t.
I am reminded of a friend who told me about a conversation he had with his neighbor. My friend was fairly certain that his neighbor had voted for Donald Trump, and he had resisted talking with him about the election based on that assumption. Somehow, the conversation started anyway, and my friend’s neighbor explained why he voted how he had. It was such a specific reason related to a regulatory action by the Obama administration that, unless they had talked, my friend could not have possibly known the reason. Without talking, all there would be filling the space between the two are presumptions and assumptions. By talking, they opened a doorway to sharing their lives — and an understanding of why they hold the views they do.
One step at a time.
Scientists have discovered that it only takes 10% of people to embrace a new concept or idea before a paradigm can begin to shift. What if a major corporation lead the way, as one step toward that 10%, by establishing a process for all employees to know what mattered to the other, and then consider what mattered when making or implementing a new policy?
And, why wait for a top-down approach? I will always remember a co-worker encouraging me, in response to my complaining about the fast pace and lack of connection where we worked, to simply ask everyone one question about what they cared about outside of work. I took on the challenge and had some amazing connections as a result. Similar to my friend and his neighbor, it took very little effort to reach out and connect. And, had I not done so, I would have stayed stuck in my complaint about the lack of connection.
When more and more people practice this type of conversation with each other, in any personal or professional setting, we will move closer to the 10% tipping point. And, when that happens, we will some day have political candidates who are willing to get to know their opponent before they engage in a debate about the substantive issues.
From relationships, to families, to work teams, to communities, and ultimately to politics, this is actually possible to achieve. The only thing in the way of this being the way we function as a society is a limiting belief that it cannot be the way.
The way things are today does not have to be the way going forward. We have the power to choose to create differently.
One step at a time.