Jackie Gingrich Cushman,
This is the season of Advent for Christians. The season is not just about the event but about the expectation, the waiting, the preparation, the everyday events through which you can see God’s grace shine. In today’s polarized political environment, this might appear to be impossible to achieve. But I believe it is possible — it just requires us to adjust our expectations and our state of mind.
First, expectations. This week on ABC’s “The View,” hosts Whoopi Goldberg and Meghan McCain got into an argument and proceeded to verbally run over each other. It ended with Goldberg cutting McCain off and moving the show to commercial. This is not a new occurrence for “The View.” Rather, the show seems to specialize in this type of verbal altercation.
Goldberg addressed the incident later in the week, saying: “If you watch the show, you know this has happened over the years. We’re really passionate. This is our jobs. We come in. We talk to each other. Sometimes we’re not as polite as we could be. … But you’re going to be dealing with the same thing when you sit around your table with your family … So everybody just calm down. It’s a TV show.”
It is just a TV show, and it’s important to remember that TV shows thrive or fail based on the number of viewers they attract, and that controversy attracts viewers. While Goldberg might have drawn a parallel between the arguments on “The View” and our sitting down with our families over the holidays, there is — or should be — a big difference. At home, the goal should be connection, rather than controversy.
Let’s make sure that when we interact with family and friends, we seek to connect.
Secondly, let’s look at our state of mind. Yes, we firmly believe in our individual points of view. But we must also be grateful that we can hold any beliefs that we want, and that we have the right to discuss them freely. We should be joyous when articulating our positions — the ability for us to hold two or more views about any given subject proves that our country is better than many others.
At some point during the holidays, as you gather with family and friends, you may find yourself involved in a heated discussion that might easily turn into an argument. Passionate views are great, but it’s important not to turn the passionate into the personal. Let’s remember: Passionate articulation of our beliefs good, personal attacks not helpful.
How do I know this? For the past few years, I have had the good fortune to appear regularly on Georgia Public Broadcasting’s “Political Rewind,” hosted by Bill Nigut. Those appearances — in which I have generally espoused conservative views — have helped me hone my skills. They have provided me with the opportunity to discuss issues I care about, with people I care about whose opinions often differ from mine.
Nigut recently shared some feedback from a listener about my appearances. The listener told him how much he likes having me on the show. “He said he can tell you are a really caring person, even though he doesn’t agree with a lot of your conservative views. I told him I thought he was right on point,” Nigut told me in an email.
This was welcome praise. It’s easy to personally attack others; it’s harder to communicate a perspective while still respecting those who have a different opinion.
What I do know is that if the people you are talking to do not know that you care about them, they will never care about what you know. This is where many Republicans get it backward.
They do care about people and believe that they can effect positive change by working with people from all points on the political spectrum. But they sometimes allow themselves to accuse their political adversaries of being stupid. It’s hard to win an argument when you begin by telling a person that he or she is dumb.
If, instead, you start with the idea that you might have the chance to be a blessing to someone, and then you pause and listen to them, you might find that the entire conversation changes trajectory. Not only will they look at you and listen to you differently but you might just learn something that will inform your argument.
As I wrote in my recent book, “Our Broken America: Why Both Sides Need to Stop Ranting and Start Listening,”: “Be open to being wrong; when talking with others, start with the statement ‘I could be wrong, but …’ This simple statement, often used by Benjamin Franklin, tends to put the other person at ease, makes the discussion more about issues than about personalities, and opens you to learning something new, and potentially even altering your opinion.”
This year, let’s stop the Holiday Outrage and be a blessing to others instead.