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COLUMN: Current political dialog is dangerously toxic

By: Rachel Stovall
October 18, 2017 Updated: October 18, 2017 at 4:05 am
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I feel like in politics, we will fight about anything. Seriously. We are fighting about what shoes the first lady wore to Houston. No matter what the political question is - in 2017 - we fight.

And the fighting gets personal. Name calling, open insults and cursing rule the day. Will we ever have a political debate again without someone being accused of being racist or sexist? I have never seen anything like our current political climate. So I asked a question on social media "Does politics have to run on anger?"

The consensus online outlined the attitude in political engagement as:

1) If I disagree with you, I automatically hate everything about you.

2) If I disagree with you, I'm automatically afraid of you and what you stand for.

3) I'm always right, and everyone I disagree with is always wrong.

4) I'm open-minded as long as I agree with you, but if I disagree with even a part of your argument, I'm closed-minded and ignorant.

Unfortunately, this type of thinking is toxic in its lack of empathy. We can't repair problems of division, jump-start the economy, or resolve the health insurance crisis, without caring about the people who have the problems.

Like a devil using a cookie cutter, we unmercifully pound on those around us. We act as though people are the dough we will form into the shape that we want. Then we shut them away from us. We turn on the heat until we decide the dough is ready to consume. The process is only about what we want.

In other words, we only care about the people who mirror our views. Left, right and even moderates are guilty of this. We don't allow for any kind of dissent to any part of our individual opinions or world view. Not even in our own parties. Yes. Us. We the people. We lack empathy.

Only "our" group should be listened to. Only "our" group should receive sympathy for problems. And only people like "us" can truly belong to "our" group.

This problem transcends race, class, gender, sexual orientation, political party or any other divide. We lack empathy. We have forgotten, if we ever knew, how to walk in another man's shoes.

As distressing as the recent events in Houston, Florida, Las Vegas, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have been, there is a positive aspect to the occurrences. When we speak of these areas and the devastation that they have suffered, we all agree that we should be supportive.

Some of us even are donating time, treasure or talent to help. On social media, we try to speak in positive terms about the residents, and many point out the incidents of people working together.

We know what unity looks like. It is in times of tragedy that many of us gain back our empathy and set aside our differences to comfort and help one another.

Could we bring that sense of goodwill and unity into discussions? Even political ones? Sure we can. I think that sometimes we forget that we are interconnected.

We enjoy seeing ourselves as individuals and powerful alone, but to be a nation we need to stay connected and civil while working on important issues.

A better attitude taken in political discourse could be :

1) We can agree to disagree.

2) I don't have to fear you or what you stand for.

3) I'm not always right, and everyone I disagree with is not always wrong. Maybe I can learn something new.

4) I'm civil even if I disagree with you. I don't have to denigrate you or your opinion.

Politics does not have to run on anger. If we dare to open our hearts and minds, our political process could run on empathy. Empathy will bridge our divides. Benefiting everyone, not just our group creates the best compromises. Reaching across the aisles, we will we solve our problems. Together.

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Rachel Stovall is a longtime community advocate and organizer. Also a fundraising, media and marketing consultant, Rachel is most known for singing with her dance band Phat Daddy and the Phat Horn Doctors.

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