Politi-cillin: a Painful (but Necessary) Dose of Reality
It’s a rule at work that we can’t discuss politics or religion. Every day, I bring the newspaper to read during my lunch break, and my coworkers ask me if there’s any good stuff in there, pointing to advertisements for half-off Swiffer Dusters and $19.99 Bed, Bath & Beyond Deluxe Juicers—all of which are sandwiched between articles about mass murders in Syria and the Sudanese border conflicts. Sadly, the conversation goes far enough for me to pull out the ads and glance at them for a second before we ponder aloud whether or not Macy’s has better deals. Then, as quickly and boringly as it began, the conversation is over.
Likewise, in our modern social lives there’s an unspoken rule to not discuss anything political or religious. After all, it might lead to hurt feelings. It’s much simpler when we can just contribute a comment about Jessica Simpson’s Weight Watcher’s deal and then keep sipping our lattés in peace. Even Congress members don’t want to ruin the day by talking about the political climate of the country. In the midst of falling off the fiscal cliff, it only took the faint smell of a Christmas turkey before they had their jet-black SUV’s lined up and waiting for them outside.
So what’s happening in modern society that no one can, or will, have friendly conversations about the world-altering movements that are shaping our lives? Certainly the issues haven’t become more pressing than they were in the past, nor the perspectives more radical, nor the people more convicted in their beliefs. Yet the dialogue has slowed, almost halting altogether. Rather than engaging in philosophical discourse, everyone avoids the subject in fear that it will turn into a whirlwind of Hatfield & McCoy finger-pointing. So many interesting truths can emerge during a discussion about the role of government, the influence of religion, and the way social programs aid society. But everyone shies away from honest discourse, something I’m sure the CEO of Lehman Brothers would agree with. So what’s the real reason for this—the reason why I have to skip over the World News section of the paper to talk about Swiffers and Juicers or the reason why it’s not polite to ask my friends who they voted for in the elections?
The reason is that people are self-serving. If someone disagrees with us, it’s a personal affront to our way of living. People connect to political and social issues as if their very opinions are going to shake the world into perfection, often by expressing these opinions on Facebook (while subsequently cowering in the corner when any real discussion is about to occur). No longer does our society feel satisfied listening to others’ beliefs and then weighing differing perspectives. Why do that when it’s easier to shout something out an open door and then slam it shut? After all, ignoring others’ responses is as easy as turning off the computer. Influencing politics through discourse and then action is too altruistic in a world where we constantly want to shout (or tweet) our own beliefs, ignore everyone else’s, and then run away from action. People are self-serving. And it’s creating a world where each man is only out for himself.
The solution, then, lies in realizing that just as we all covet our national right to vote, we should also covet our ability to have open and honest discourse with our bunk-mates on this planet.
Talk about what matters. Get heated. Have differing opinions. Observe how our government officials problem solve and interact during conferences and through various new channels; watch how they discuss the most critical issues plaguing our nation.
And then use it as a model of what not to do.