Keep an open mind: Should we really avoid political debate?

You’ve been told – or said yourself – many times, “Whatever you do don’t discuss politics or religion.” It may be that you are prepping your son for his first serious job interview. Or prepping yourself for the annual holiday party. “OK, don’t drink very much and don’t bring up politics at all.”

This practice may be a necessary social lubricant. It is sort of sad to me though, especially in the season when we are up to our eyebrows in political campaigning. If you mentally slide away all the exaggerated attacks (granted some are indelible and factual) and boil the rhetoric down to issues that vitally concern all of us as a society, we darn well better be able to debate them. Yet, I’ve very rarely been part of that debate when anyone was truly open to changing their beliefs.

We tend to be passionate about those beliefs; we tend to hold fast to them and to associate with others who share them. (That is after we think we know someone well enough to tiptoe into that arena of expressing political leanings.)

As business owners, we tend to hire those who agree with us politically – without ever having a discussion about it. Your associates – I bet – have mentally labeled each other as conservative or liberal – again, with no basis beyond random comments, body language, or hunches. If you have hired clones of yourself (which happens, unfortunately) everyone under your business roof may be of the same political persuasion. In that case, all your discussions about the election will just further etch your beliefs in your mind.

That sounds OK, and may feel good. Problem is, in that kind of atmosphere, no one is checking the facts. No one is screening the beliefs for bias (which is nearly unavoidable). No one is even Googling for new evidence or considering arguments from the other side. No one is putting her beliefs to the test for rationality. (If this sounds a bit like how our congressional representatives behave lately, it is what it is, as my very rational spouse likes to say, tongue-in-cheek mind you.)

We may never get to the point, in our business or social lives, where we can participate in good healthy, open debates about vital social issues. We may never spend time and energy collecting information from people not on our sides of those issues. We may hold fast and expound upon beliefs that are way outdated, unsubstantiated – just plain wrong. How can we ever move into combining our talents in order to solve those vital issues? Perhaps we keep issues alive and unresolved because we are so stuck in our own strong viewpoints and shy away from hearing others. So forever we kick around problems of poverty, national debt, defense, education, health care, violence, human and animal rights, with never a solution.

Perhaps we can practice in small groups, maybe one-on-one with someone of another political party, someone we like and respect (except of course for their adherence to that stupid party).

Perhaps we can agree to disagree and set up some rules for our conversation. Maybe we can practice actually listening and not ridiculing any of the other’s opinions. We can try to understand the other’s opinions without an agenda to change them. We may be able to find common ground while holding onto our convictions.

And perhaps, just perhaps it could spread.

Jo Gorissen is a certified transition coach and a former Milwaukee area resident. Her website is www.coachingconbrio.com and she can be reached at (414) 305-3459.

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