In an earlier post on love and hatred, I briefly discussed how religion and politics often provide us with sanctioned outlets for our hatred, reflecting the processes of splitting and projection. The current election cycle is a perfect example. While Fox News and the Tea Party movement dominate televised discourse with their hateful attacks, in private liberals are often just as hateful. I’ve had friends shout me down for saying I could empathize with parents of underage daughters who felt they had a right to know if she were having an abortion. Within certain circles, to suggest that there might be reasonable limits to abortion-on-demand is to question the Faith and to arouse hatred. I’ve known Democrats who wouldn’t even consider dating a Republican.
Given the enormous challenges we face, the political arena is a place where we ought to be having reasoned discourse about what’s best for our country; doing so depends upon the ability to think in the presence of intense emotion, a very difficult thing to do. Intense emotion is the enemy of thought, whether it’s a sentimental glow that blinds us to harsh reality, or hatred that makes us unable to see the other side of an issue. Many of the conservative voices in our country today are fanning the flames of hatred in order to squelch any realistic debate about the direction of our country and the sacrifices we’ll all have to make. For many of them, their sole aim is to win.
While Democrats don’t rely as much on hatred to mobilize the base, their attitudes toward the other side can also be hateful. I’ve had many conversations with liberals who demonize Republicans in the most vitriolic language and seem to regard them as an inferior species, scarcely human. In relation to the opposing side, conservatives tend to be smug and contemptuous, liberals superior and self-righteous. Hatred permeates both positions.
Finding Your Own Way:
Whatever your political alignment, try to imagine a typical member of the opposing party. I don’t mean the politicians but rather Joe or Jane Voter. You probably hold an image of such a person already, and it likely tends to stereotype. What is your fictional Joe Voter like? Is Jane Voter a caricature? How do you feel about him or her? Have you ever actually known somebody just like that in a more-than-casual way?
Next try to humanize Joe or Jane. For the most part, we tend to associate with people who share our viewpoint, but no doubt you’ve come into contact with members of the “other side” who don’t fit your stereotype. They feel pain, struggle to make ends meet, and experience loss just the way you do. The point here is remove hatred from the field. Now for the real challenge: think about their political positions without automatically rejecting them. Any areas of agreement? Any merit to their arguments, once you strip away the overcharged emotional rhetoric? If you can’t respect their point of view, at least try not to view it with contempt and hostility.
We all complain about the low level of political discourse in this country, and the pervasive negative tone of election campaigns. How different in reality is your internal political debate?