Recently I got into a political argument with a friend, which, rather predictably, ended with us retreating to our respective corners to nurse our wounds. After tempers had cooled, I mulled over the incident. Perhaps my vehemence had been inappropriate, but was I right to engage?
They say you should never discuss religion or politics in public, and I can aver from personal experience that my forays into political debates with friends and family have, almost always, been met with yawns, eye-rolls, and barely disguised disinterest or discomfort. That is understandable. People lead busy lives. The combative nature of modern politics is dispiriting and a media environment that relishes contests and ignores substance is unhelpful. Then there is the information overload, which makes us retreat into cocoons, hoping that our circle of friends will act as trusted filters. It hasn’t helped that a myth of individualistic success and obstructionist and ineffective government has been perpetuated so successfully as to become pervasive. Yes, it is understandable.
But it is not acceptable.
Because we are inundated with a never-ending tirade of demagoguery, and because affairs of state are reported irresponsibly in a he-said, she-said template, we forget that, underneath it all, decisions that affect our lives are taken each day by people who we have had the opportunity to elect or reject. Minor bills are passed that can have major impacts in our lives. No amount of wealth or influence can protect us from the e-coli in our spinach, nor can a fancy car protect us if we are driving over a bridge that has not been repaired due to lack of funds. No gated community can protect us from the criminality that arises from inequity or the natural disaster that is untended because of cuts in emergency personnel.
We may elect our politicians because we like the cut of their jib or the sparkle in their smile, but behind their rhetoric is actual voting history, bills tendered and passed. We may despise a politician for not delivering on an issue we care about, or having weak negotiating stances but, once again, they have complete records in black and white for us to peruse.
And we can choose to educate ourselves and others, or we can pretend it is all happening to someone else. We can choose to let uninformed opinion stand, or we can become the trusted provider of facts. For the 99 people who cannot be moved, there will be the one who says, “Really? Tell me why you are right and I am wrong.” Or, better yet, one will say, “Let me tell you why I am right and you are wrong,” and we will learn something new.