One of the books I picked up was Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People." I was surprised to read something in the first chapter that seemed relevant to today's political environment.
Carnegie tells of a murderer on death row who didn't understand why he was there. Carnegie says the man murdered a policeman in cold blood (in front of witnesses), but that the man excused his own behavior as justifiable. In short, Carnegie says, none of us ever believe that we are in the wrong. It's simply human nature that we believe that we are the good guy.
So when someone criticizes us, we simply stop listening to them. Instead, we become defensive. We rail against our accusers. We claim they are out to get us.
So, if everyone (EVERYONE!) believes they are in the right, what does this mean for humanity? It means that (let's pluck a number out of the air) 50% of the time each of us is wrong and doesn't know it.
Well that can't be good for the country. How, then, are we supposed to straighten things out?
Carnegie says criticism simply doesn't work. Instead, positive interaction does.
Abe Lincoln is well known for holding the country together during the Civil War. At Lincoln's death bed, Stanton, the then-secretary-of-war, said, "there lies the most perfect ruler of men the world has ever seen."
Carnegie says Lincoln held his tongue when his generals blundered, saying instead, "judge not, that ye be not judged." When his own wife spoke ill of the South, Lincoln said, "don't criticize them; they are just what we would be under similar circumstances."
Is this how we are behaving toward people in opposing political parties?
Lincoln wasn't always this way. In his youth, he reveled in criticizing others, writing scathing letters about people he didn't like and dropping those letters where people could find them. He attacked opponents in newspaper articles. It culminated when he insulted someone so badly that the man challenged Lincoln to a duel to the death. Lincoln was opposed to dueling, but couldn't get out of it.
The duel was stopped at the last minute, but having been faced with the possibility of killing a man, Lincoln was changed forever. He never again wrote a critical letter. He never again ridiculed someone. He strove for the rest of his life to bring people together rather than prove the superiority of his opinion over another.
I'm a registered Republican. Some people might wonder why I voted for Obama. Especially when I tell them that I liked McCain, too. It's because Obama said that too much of the time, opposing sides spend so much time yelling at each other that they forget that they have common ground. If we came together civilly, we might actually be able to make progress by implementing those things that we agree on. Instead, we let our egos get in the way.
He was talking about abortion--one of the most polarizing issues of our time. The common ground? Both sides want to reduce teen pregnancy. How can anyone argue with that? The problem is that, because we yell at each other, and don't respect each other's opinion, we don't bother to work on even that small issue together.
Obama said, " I absolutely think we can find common ground. And it requires a couple of things. It requires us to acknowledge that..
- There is a moral dimension to abortion, which I think that all too often those of us who are pro-choice have not talked about or tried to tamp down. I think that’s a mistake because I think all of us understand that it is a wrenching choice for anybody to think about.
- People of good will can exist on both sides. That nobody wishes to be placed in a circumstance where they are even confronted with the choice of abortion. How we determine what’s right at that moment, I think, people of good will can differ.
"We’re not going to completely resolve it. At some point, there may just be an irreconcilable difference. And those who are opposed to abortion, I think, should continue to be able to lawfully object and try to change the laws."
And that's why I voted for the man. Not because I believed in one political issue over another, but because I wanted a person in the White House who was willing to stop calling people names and start getting down to business.
"Can't we all just get along?" is seen as an anemic and cliche refrain. But it shouldn't be. It should be our battle cry. It should be what we start demanding of our political representatives. Whether or not we agree with every political stance they represent, our political leaders should be willing to talk to the people on the opposing side. And that's not going to happen when we're throwing around labels like "left-wing or right-wing nutjob", and "A**holes", and "baby killers" and "Christ killers" and "towel heads" and "camel jockeys" and every other word we like to throw around.
It's time to stop acting like three-year-olds, guys.