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How do We Cure Political Dysfunction? "Let the More Loving One Be Me"

by Michael Austin, published

If equal affection cannot be,

Let the more loving one be me .

--W.H. Auden


One of the more comforting myths of the modern political age is that the government in our country has become dysfunctional because it no longer represents the people. The reality, I fear, is much worse news: Government has become dysfunctional because it does represent the people—and the people are dysfunctional.

When the population of a great nation becomes divided, strident, and uncompromising, it is very likely that our government will be divided, strident, and uncompromising. When people become convinced that those who disagree with them are enemies, it is very likely that the members of our government will treat their political opponents like their enemies. What if we, as a people, have character issues?

Every time I say something like this in a column, I get a lot of people agreeing with me about how the people on the other side always act. Hundreds of people have told me that they wish that would read this and learn how to behave. I don’t think that I have ever had someone respond to one of my posts about civil discourse with a comment like, “gee, you’re right, I could do better.”

But here’s the thing. We don’t control “the other guys.” We don’t control that much about the global or the national political discourse. We decide how we respond at family gatherings, Church socials, and work breaks. We decide how to talk about issues on Facebook and Twitter. We decide how we practice political discourse. And what we all decide to do together ends up being reflected in our national government. So, for 2014, my answer to the question, “what can we do about the dysfunctional political discourse in Washington?” is going to be, “what can I do about the dysfunctional ways that I carry on political discourse within my own sphere of influence.”

Here are a few ways that I know that my own political discourse has crossed the line:

  • Disagreement becomes dysfunction when I feel personally attacked when somebody disagrees with one of my beliefs or opinions.
  • Disagreement becomes dysfunction when the only way I can respond to an argument is to call the person who made it stupid, crazy, or evil.
  • Disagreement becomes dysfunction when I simply can’t imagine being friends with somebody who honestly believes .
  • Disagreement becomes dysfunction when I can’t imagine spending a pleasant evening with somebody I  disagree with talking about things we don’t disagree about.

Somebody has to stop being dysfunctional, and "I will if they will" never quite works out. If equal affection cannot be, / Let the more loving one be me .

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