Talk, talk, talk and then talk some more

“In order to think through things clearly, we need other opinions and viewpoints in order to navigate into the nuance. We need civil debate to present opposing viewpoints and point out our blind spots. We need the ability to speak freely and civilly to one another.” — Eric Overby, “Legacy”

I learned a lot last weekend.

I learned one football game can be both some of the most boring and some of the most exciting sport in the history of sport.

I learned I really like H.E.R., who came out to play with Usher during the Super Bowl halftime show.

I learned again (because I never seem to remember my lesson) that too many buffalo wings make for a night of restless sleep and a painful morning. God bless antacids.

And I learned you can have a spirited debate about politics without things getting ugly.

Seven adults and seven children gathered downstate at a relative’s house last weekend to watch the big game.

Before the game and a little bit the morning after, political, religious, and philosophical debates broke out, as they often do in that company.

I won’t say who argued for or against what, but we adults debated everything from the guilty verdict for the mother of the Oxford school shooter to immigration to presidential politics to religious dogma to LGBTQ rights to guns.

Different camps formed on each subject. The debates often grew … I won’t say heated, but lively. Voices raised. Some people sometimes elected to leave the room because the debates were too much for them. Phones were pulled out frequently to check facts and look up points for argument.

When the debates were over, we turned to our chicken wings, pizza, and football and enjoyed each other’s company. When we visitors got up to leave the next morning, we hugged each other and bid each other farewell.

As far as I know, nobody left with hurt feelings or any less respect for the others.

Maybe it’s easier because we’re family, but I think there’s something to learn from my Super Bowl weekend interactions.

The most important thing about those interactions, for me, was that we each approached them knowing something about the others as people, not just avatars for their political inclinations. I know my relatives to be loving, intelligent, and passionate about their communities, good parents, people of strong faith, and people with good senses of humor about themselves and the world around them.

A good sense of humor and the ability to laugh at oneself, by the by, is the most important measure of character to me. If we can’t laugh at ourselves, it usually means we’re filled with too much hubris, and I find hubris very off-putting and even dangerous.

The second-most important thing about my Super Bowl interactions with my relatives? We all at least listened to the facts presented by the other side of the argument. We may not have conceded that the others’ facts disproved our overall beliefs, but we at least conceded we were wrong about particular points, and, for me, that caused me to rethink — though not completely abandon — some of my beliefs.

Finally, none of the debates dissolved into personal attacks. Probably mostly because we know each other as people, we didn’t stoop to name-calling or character assassinations just because the other side disagreed with us. That allowed the debates to stay civil, however lively they became.

Maybe I’m being pollyannish, but I think the world could lower its political temperature at least a few degrees if everybody could debate that way.

What if we got to know the other side as people and didn’t just see them as caricatures of our enemies? What if we understood they loved their families and, like us, wanted what’s best for themselves and the people they care about? What if we understood their personal struggles and how they believe the way they do because they think their candidate or their policy might alleviate those struggles?

What if we all agreed on facts, even if we couldn’t agree on what those facts mean? What if we conceded when we were wrong about the small stuff? Would that make it easier to debate civilly over the big stuff?

And what if we kept the debates about the issues and didn’t attack each other’s character and humanity?

What would our politics look like then?

We shouldn’t stay silent about our beliefs. Silence abets evil.

But we don’t have to rip apart our political opponents for our ideas to win. In fact, when we do that, we’ve already lost, because a house divided cannot stand.

People keep saying we have to vote Democratic or vote Republican if we want to have a country after the election.

Truth is, if we want to have a country in the future, we have to figure out how to talk to each other.

Justin A. Hinkley can be reached at 989-354-3112 or jhinkley@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinHinkley.


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