Shall We Be Cynics?

Politics is something humans have always argued about and will always argue about. It’s a tale as old as time. You vent in the car ride home from a night out with friends. “Can you believe she said that?” The next day, you may still be angry about it. You agree to disagree, maybe hold a slight grudge. Next time, you know not to bring it up. Everyone can sit back in relief that tonight will be a “NO POLITICS” night.

Yet, we seem to take for granted that it is indeed the inherent act of being able to argue about politics that makes our country so unique. We can debate and criticize, support or protest, and – though slowly and imperfectly – we can ignite change.

It seems more and more, however, that thin veil of respectful disagreement has appeared to vanish entirely. Friends and family with opposing political ideas are now “dangerous,” “racist,” “fascist,” or “communist.” Rather than opening a dialogue to understand, we must “silence hate speech” (which has morphed into “speech I disagree with”). More and more, it seems that political groups are identifying themselves not by principles, but rather by sharp opposition to another group or set of ideas.

Dale Carnegie once wrote, “The unvarnished truth is that almost all the people you meet feel themselves superior to you in some way, and a sure way to their hearts is to let them realize in some subtle way that you recognize their importance, and recognize it sincerely.”

Chances are, we can agree on most things. We want to build a better future and for our country to succeed. We want a well-educated society that will be taken care of when it’s needed the most. We want to ensure that no one has to worry over life’s basic necessities like food, water, a home, education, healthcare, and a sense of security. How we get there is cloudy, but we all want that, right?

So let’s start there.

Let’s talk to each other. Don’t put your fingers in your ears when a Republican is on TV and don’t roll your eyes when a Democrat takes the podium. Remind yourself constantly that everyone you meet knows something that you don’t.

I happened to read a quote from professional poker player Annie Duke the other day that really resonated with this theme. She said, “When two extreme opinions meet the truth lies generally somewhere in the middle. Without exposure to the other side, you will naturally drift toward the extremes and away from the truth of the matter.

What tends to frustrate me is entrenchment. You may find yourself in a conversation with someone about a complex subject and before you even begin you already know that they will never change their mind or even admit a minor flaw in their stance. Unfortunately, this circumstance seems to be more commonplace. People’s heels are dug so deep in their ideology that they never take the opportunity to self-analyze or examine alternative ways of getting to their ultimate goal.

I was an idiot when I was eighteen. I was an idiot two weeks ago! When I read some of the things I wrote on this very blog I laugh because I have either learned more about the subject since, or have changed my opinion on it altogether. It’s ok to be wrong. That’s what life is all about. Alvin Toffler writes, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

I find it funny when politicians are criticized for flip-flopping. Of course, when taken to it’s extreme that can be a bad thing, but isn’t that a good thing? Shouldn’t we be encouraging growth and learning? Why would I want a 70-year old politician representing me who hasn’t opened his mind to new ideas in decades? We should encourage new ideas. A perfect example is Obama or Hillary Clinton on gay marriage.

Politics is confusing shit. Complicated issues like abortion, immigration, gun rights, and foreign policy do not deserve binary ideological positions – “It’s either this or that.” It’s way more complicated than that, and the positions of only two political parties will rarely represent the majority of a country’s opinions across the board. Can I be pro-choice and pro-second ammendment? Can I be for free health care and free college while also believing in free-market capitalism and deregulation? These things don’t have to be ideologically conflicting.

Will we learn to open our minds to new ideas? Shall we be optimists, or shall we be cynics?

-KB

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