Never an hour goes by without partisans on either side of the political spectrum ranting and raving at each other on social media and newspaper websites about government policies and issues.
Most often, these people have probably never laid eyes on each other or spoken in person. They certainly don’t know each other well or the personal experiences that led to their differing political beliefs.
While they are trying to advance their own personal and political agendas, what they are doing is contributing to the divisiveness in politics and society. They are creating bigger problems while not solving any.
In 2014, David Bornstein of The New York Times’ “Fixes” blog wrote about a conversation he had with Parker A. Palmer in a post titled “Reclaiming ‘We the People’ One Person at a Time.”
Please Google it. It’s an insightful piece.
Palmer wrote a book called “Healing the Heart of Democracy,” in which he proposes ways to bridge political divides in our families, neighborhoods, classrooms, congregations and workplaces to help restore a government “of the people, by the people, for the people,” according to his website.
In a video on the website, Palmer says he wrote the book because he was “in a funk” about American politics. He says that funk wasn’t so much about what’s going on in Washington, D.C., but about what’s happening with “we the people.”
“What’s happened to our sense of civic community?” he says. “What’s happened to our capacity to hold our differences with some kind of hospitality, rather than hostility?”
In his interview with Bornstein, Palmer relates the importance of telling each other stories about ourselves.
“People have a harder time dismissing or demonizing each other politically when they know a bit of each other’s personal stories,” he said.
Palmer said we can talk across political lines by talking about what we love – our families, our country, the natural world and the idea that people should be able to get ahead in life, for example. Then, he said, we can talk about our doubts “because we all doubt that what we love is being served well.”
“Beginning a conversation with loves and doubts rather than political ideologies opens a new door to dialogue, driven by story-telling rather than political point scoring,” Palmer told the Times.
I often chat with my brother about politics, and he recently told me that he believed he and one of his best friends working together could at least make a dent in many of the social issues that plague our society today, such as health care, education and the national debt. My brother, who works in the finance industry, is conservative, while his friend, a school teacher, is liberal.
While their political philosophies differ greatly, they are both well-educated, thoughtful and caring people. Because of their longstanding friendship, they respect each other tremendously and understand each other’s viewpoints, even if they disagree. They could use that foundation to compromise and come up with meaningful solutions.
Palmer says Americans need chutzpah and humility to be good citizens of democracy.
“The chutzpah to say what it is we care about … and the humility to know that we have to listen to others because none of us has the whole answer.”
Patrick Gannon is the columnist for the Capitol Press Association. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.