I once heard an interview of playwright David Mamet explaining civility and debate in which he said:
“The essence of politics as my rabbi teaches is, we have to be civil with each other. We first have to be able to state the other guy’s position such that he will be able to say, ‘Yes, that’s what I mean’, and he has to say it for us. Then we each adduce our facts, and we agree upon the facts. When we’ve done those two things, then we can progress into an argument.”
This concept has stuck with me for many years. How much might we accomplish if debates and discussions were carried out this way?
For, if the goal of debate is to find the best solutions, then that is exactly what our congressmen should be doing; this is what the talking heads should be doing; and this is what we should be doing. But if the goal of debate is just to be “right”; or to throw out some “gotcha” moments; or to get re-elected, then by all means, keep doing things this way.
If you can’t explain the reason for something, you can’t honestly say you are opposed to it. For example, every four years, many people get frustrated by the Electoral College. Twitter comes alive with angry tweets about the popular vote, and the lack of democracy in America. Yet, most of those voices haven’t a clue about the purpose for it. The point of the EC is to balance out the weight of the vote to people of varying walks of life from all over the country, thus providing a more accurate representation of the nation as a whole. In other words, it’s about empowering demographic minorities. So, opposing the Electoral College makes about as much sense as opposing women’s right to vote. Ignorance is bliss, indeed.
Or how about separation of church and state? The Left loves to throw out this one. But do they realize that the purpose of separation of church and state was to prevent any single church from being declared as the one official denomination? It was never anywhere close to the intention of segregating religion and government. It’s just that most people hear “church” and assume that means “religion”. Notice, it’s not called separation of religion and state.
If you can’t oppose what you don’t understand, and you can’t currently explain the other guy’s position, then we should all be spending vast amounts of time listening and learning from the other side. We should be reading Marx, Upton Sinclair, and the Huffington Post. And learn it legitimately, without mockery, well enough that you could explain it to them. But we don’t, do we? It’s much easier to stay within our comfort zone, and never challenge our beliefs. Never step outside our circle of familiar voices preaching the same things we already know.