If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me .
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comforting myths of the modern political age is that the government in our country has become dysfunctional because it no longer represents the people.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.
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 [insert name] 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 control ourselves. We decide how we talk to each other. 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.” Disagreement does not have to be dysfunctional, but it often does anyway.
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 [insert belief here].
- Disagreement becomes dysfunction when I believe that people who disagree with me have no right to exist.
- 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.
- Disagreement becomes dysfunction when the thought of somebody else’s opinion fills me with anger.
- Disagreement become dysfunction when it causes me to hate.
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 .