This editorial was originally published in the Bloomington Pantagraph.
This week’s example of how all politics are local is the story of growing discontent and intensified disagreements between school boards and their constituency.
Society’s current breaking point is a debate between those who are hastening social changes and those who think we’ve moved too fast. The feelings are some are rushing into an unknown future in a careless sprint, and others are stuck in the morass of a society that’s clearly broken.
Those are the extremes, of course. There’s plenty of room between those poles. But more and more, the middle feels like a target. It’s easier to survive and even easy to be heard when huddled with a group of people you might agree with even a little. So we retreat to our corners and yell at each other.
We don’t need to look to larger cities to see the political divisiveness on a micro level. City council and school board showdowns have made headlines locally and elsewhere in Central Illinois. Accusatory tones and sharp statements emanate from each side with little desire from either side to actually listen. Being effective when on offense or defense is more important than seeking a solution. The value of the outcome is rarely considered because it’s more important to win. And if someone wins, someone else has to lose.
We’ve actually turned our lives into a game. Unfortunately, we’ve turned discourse into a coin flip.
Consider your most extreme core position, the one you’ll hold regardless of the argument. You couldn’t possibly change your mind. If a person disagrees with you, how likely are you to listen to what they have to say? How willing are you to accept that the world they’ve lived in and the life they’ve lived is different enough from yours that they can’t possibly share the same opinion?
And do you honestly think that person is incontrovertibly wrong? Are you willing to go so far as to suggest that person might be “evil?”
Are you willing to understand a person who truly and legitimately fears a vaccine? Are you willing to concede that someone wearing a mask even without government directive can do as they wish without being ridiculed? Do you really believe a couple of hours watching YouTube videos is enough to qualify you as more of an expert than people who have spent their lives studying the issue?
Can you understand that screaming about climate change at a denier is unproductive? Are you a person who can look at the Australian continent on fire and watch hundreds die in record heat just off the Pacific Ocean and still shrug at the science?
There’s more of an emphasis on the individual wanting what they want and the rest of society can stand back in line. The divide is not new, but its existence is disappointing and the degree of its spread is alarming.
Want to take a step in a positive direction? Listen. When someone disagrees with you, patiently give them the benefit of your ear. Maybe they’ll be able to eventually calmly give you a thumbnail idea about their concepts. Once they get past the surprise of someone actually listening to them, that is.
If you understand someone else’s position, you’ve not only expanded your comprehension but you’re also able to show even our most divisive topics can be discussed. You may not be able to change anyone’s mind. But we’ve already been shown that yelling and mocking others doesn’t do any good.
Listen for a little bit.