Saturday, January 7, 2012

Why is "Politics" a four-letter word?

Several people I know refuse to speak about politics. They keep their views to themselves and if the conversation goes into a territory that can be viewed as "political" they immediately stop and say that they do not discuss politics - or that the subject of politics is of no interest to them.

Some of these people are highly spiritual, high consciousness people, who think deeply about things, and have nuanced and well-read approaches to life.

And every time they bow out of the conversation, I think to myself: "Darn, I would love to have THIS particular voice as part of the debate, because he/she is so very knowledgeable, thoughtful, and nuanced in his/her views."

But their lips are zipped. They are not going there.

So being a Danish implant into American culture, I often have a bit of an outsider understanding of things that make me like an elephant in a china shop at times. Since I did not grow up here, I often do not have the cultural sensitivities that come from being immersed in a certain way of doing things your whole life.

So to me, in my outsider naiveté, politics is a subject that concerns everyone on all levels of their existence. If laws are passed that effectively take away my or my children's right to due process and free speech - this concerns me on the most fundamental level. My children's future can be influenced heavily by laws passed today on the environment, wars, and healthcare. This concerns me, it concerns my neighbors and my children on the deepest and most basic level.

Having grown up in a country that was taken over by the Germans in WWII and listening to my elders talk about the political events that led up to the war and Hitler's take-over, they all saw signs and heard voices of increasing polarization and painting of enemy portraits everywhere that were ignored. I am not saying we are necessarily in a situation that is similar to the build-up to WWII. I am also very aware of how we can create fear and manifest that which we fear.

What I am getting at is that some of the most valuable and most nuanced voices are missing from our political debates and discussions. And it is important to see our tendency to polarize and "slam each other" for what it is.

I do believe that there is a lot to be said for "being above the mudslinging" as one of my friends stated as the reason she did not want to engage in political discussions. And I can understand another one of my dear friends who simply stated that he found no place for his views as they were not along party lines and therefore made people feel "uneasy".

And here is to me something to ponder: If we have to "fall within party lines" to have a legitimacy to speak up, then we are saying that in America there are only two kinds of human beings: Democrats and Republicans (and a few lonely Independents). OK, so three kinds of human beings. But, really that is such a sad statement. This is making the subject of our common future, the plans and laws that determine our interaction a matter of tribal warfare. A matter of "us versus them". My views against your views.

The media are happy to enforce this entertaining view. Discussing politics on TV becomes a boxing match designed to get good ratings, so it needs to be sensational. Viewpoints fly across the screen like good Upper Cuts with the ultimate prize being the Sunday Punch that leaves the opposing side stuttering and speechless, flailing after the Knock Out. Extreme viewpoints are the rule. Lack of nuance and thoughtful process common place. Verbal slams abound. In this environment solutions are not to be found, because the ultimate goal in our political process, like in sports, is "winning". Winning the match, winning the debate, winning the election.

The Danish tradition that I grew up in (it might have somewhat changed by now) was based on an electoral system that had between 12 and 14 political parties in a country of 5 million people.  To arrive at any kind of forward motion, alliances had to be forged and typically this would have to happen across the middle. The common ground was often where one could move forward. Any party would have to give a little in order to get something. This was the basis of negotiation and sometimes it worked great, other times it was less successful. BUT as a general rule, the participants in the political process were able to have lunch together, hear each other out, establish where they could come together on points and where they had to draw a line in the sand. There was a great deal of spirited debate, but for the most part it had to be based on a level of information and knowledge that allowed for nuances and grey-tones to appear in the process.

In our basic two-party system, we have increasingly become masters of talking points and easy solutions. Us versus Them. The other side are slimy socialists or crusty neocons. We are holier than thou on our side, whatever side we are on. And not surprisingly there is very little progress made in an environment where the main focus is to stump and debilitate your "enemy". Any thought of actually being in the same boat and needing to arrive at viable solutions for all is considered a sell-out or throwing in the towel...

In America, if we talk politics, we talk to the ones that we agree with. If we were to discuss it with one from the other side of the aisle, then the only model we have for this is one of warfare and disagreement.  Where are the discussion clubs that further understanding and cooperation? Where are the debates that have the candidates say: "Wow - you have a great point there, and may I piggy-back on that to see what we might arrive at"? We have no role models for this kind of debate - and maybe the closest we get is on PBS, which of course has few viewers as it is not "entertaining".

In America we want to see blood in our debate. We want to sit in the Gladiator ring and turn our thumbs down and watch the opponent die in agony. And who really wants to enter into this ring of madness to be poked, stabbed and drilled but the foolhardy and those seeking to pick a fight?

So what can we do to start speaking to each other across party lines, across diversions of faith, across lines of wealth and influence?

How can we develop a language of inclusion and understanding?

How can we independently stop looking at the other side as the enemy - but simply as our brothers or our sisters with different backgrounds and different views?

How can we independently find our voices and feel safe enough to express them?

And feel safe enough to expand and grow in our understanding rather than to view it as "admitting that we were wrong"?

As I ponder these questions, I continue to speak up from my current understanding of things. And if I grow and change my mind - then I will celebrate this rather than look at it as a defeat.


  1. I wish America understood the value of true voice! nice to meet you, Marie!

  2. Thanks Susan... nice to meet you too. I do believe we all have a true voice - we just need to look for it...