Sunday, January 27, 2019

Political Discourse and Friendships in this time of Discord

We are living in such a discordant time. More and more, I have heard people say that they can not  consider being friends with someone who thinks differently from them politically. I've also seen that the norms that people follow in terms of polite conversation seem to have changed and become much less conducive to true discussion and more geared toward disruption and ill feeling. 

We have known a number of different people (friends, neighbors, etc.) for many years and have enjoyed long-lasting friendships with these folks. We have tended to avoid political topics until recently when somehow these topics began to be introduced into our conversations, and not always happily. I grew up in a family that tended not to engage in political discussion outside of the family and sometimes not even in the family. My father was a career officer in the U.S.Navy and he often referred to the rules on board ship. I'm not sure if they were actual rules or norms that helped to keep dozens of sailors in a confined area peaceful and focused on their jobs. So that is how I grew up. My husband is from a culture that is highly group oriented, which results in all sorts of conventions in conversations and gatherings that keep the group cohesive and harmonious. There is a place for debate: political, religious, philosophical - but it is done carefully and with consideration of the other person or persons and their viewpoints. 

What I have noticed lately is that more and more people exercise freedom of speech (which is an incredibly important freedom and one that we must not ever compromise) in a way that can be directly insulting to others. That is their right, yes. But the insulting add-ons are completely unnecessary and takes what could be an opportunity for parties on different sides of an issue to gain insights and further polarizes them. 

In the past few years on several occasions, dinner guests sitting at my table eating food I had prepared to serve them, insulted me and my family directly. I did ask them to stop, and said that their words were offensive to me. On one occasion, one of the individuals got angry and got up and left, saying that he had "freedom of speech". I said "yes, but you are in my house and you are insulting me. Please stop". Other times, people have made disparaging comments toward one speaker or another while trying to make their own points. That isn't necessary. Sometimes it seems that there is a drive to turn every discussion into an argument which then requires a winner and a loser. What is wrong with a discussion for discussion's sake?  Not everything has to be a competition. And not everything is right or wrong. 

I am also tired of dealing with people who approach discussions with the idea that if they just give me enough information, then I will change my political viewpoint. Not always the case. Some beliefs are deeply rooted in ideals as well as information. We all have different ideals and I wish we all could respect that people see things differently. 

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