Bigger

There’s a great discussion going on at Kat Coble’s place about talk radio, political discourse, and civility.  She used as her launching pad EstrogenFest 2007, which happened up at Mack’s place this past weekend.  Hearing the wonderful stories of great conversation and sweet camaraderie, I feel a tinge of jealousy.  Now, I’ll never go so far as pining for pregnancy, as Jonathan Hickman did (the very thought seems frivolous to a man who can never even pass along his genetic material), but, I must admit, hearing the stories made me wish I were female and in Aunt B’s good graces.  Sometimes, I long for more than the “parallel play” that comes along with most male friendships.

But, that wasn’t where I wanted to go with this.

Anyway, Kat wonders why more of our discourse, including talk radio, cannot be like it was at Mack’s.  She gives a contradistinction:

Part of the “fellowship” was us talking about areas where we disagree, but realising that either we didn’t disagree as much as we thought we did or that we didn’t really have a full understanding of the other “side”s beliefs. I’m a conservative libertarian (Sorry to all the Davids who disagree on this, but it’s true.) There were others there who were conservative-ish, several progressives and more than a few who seem to defy categorisation–if only because they don’t talk that much about politics.

We had fun and civil discussions, from which we came away having learned more about our friends.

I’m going to give my opinion, saying up front that, yes, I know I wasn’t there.  But, being almost as old as Mack :), I think I’ve lived long enough to know quite a bit about interpersonal relationships and discourse.

There appear to be two things at play.  Both have to do with mindset.  The first is intent. If you show up looking for a fight, you’ll get one. If you seek friendship, you’ll get that.  Knock, seek, all that stuff.  If you read carefully the words of each of the attendees, one thing stands clear: each person attending was carrying a burden (or two, or twenty-four), and what they each desired most was rest and healing.  This desire was bigger than anything else.

As an aside, it was fascinating reading the accounts, how, no matter where each was coming from, each desired , and arrived at, the same place.  How anyone could view this particular convergence and believe that life is a random accident is beyond me. But, I digress.

 Anyway, this leads to the second mindset that fosters good communication, even amongst “enemies”: a belief in a common bond greater than any, or all of the people present.

This is what’s missing in our general political discourse.  We don’t understand that we’re on the same side anymore.

If anybody thinks Lintilla and I don’t argue, they’re crazier than I am.  Yet, the tiffs we have are always with the backdrop our love for each other.  There is no need to get all worked up, because in the end, whatever it is we are arguing about is so much smaller than the bond between us. 

There used to be a concept in American politics that is all but gone: the water’s edge.  In other words, our political disagreements are insignificant compared to our willingness to defend one another from foreign invasion.  This concept was true of my brothers and me growing up.  Man, would we fight!  Yet, my older brother defended me on several occasions.  He might have been tormenting me a few moments earlier, but, by golly, nobody from outside the family would do that!

And that’s what’s missing.  Our “discussions”, if they can be called that, are no longer held within the framework of commonness.  Oh, I think we’d still defend one another in case of invasion, but we refuse to use that knowledge as a backdrop.  Sean Hannity shouts because he truly sees Democrats as the enemy.  I have no doubt that many Democrats think of him the same way.  None can see anything bigger than the disagreement.

But there is.  Friendship. Love. A common desire to just…rest.  Conversations that are cloaked in the safeness of the “bigger” know the proper tone.

Could this translate itself to a popular talk radio show?  Could a right-wing talk show that truly asked for input from liberals about how to best see the end-game in Iraq, with reasoned back-and-forth discussions work?  Could a left-wing talk show that saw George Bush, or any other conservative,  as a human being with regular joys, pains, worries and loves, instead of McChimpy stupid-pants or whatever the pejorative of the day is, could this show be popular?

I think so.  The key is this.  You ask a question.  The other person listens to what you asked, processes it, then tells you what they think.  You listen.  You process their words, express any commonality, then any differences.  You learn from each other.

Friends talk like this.

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5 Responses to “Bigger”

  1. Kate O' Says:

    Interesting post. One comment from the peanut gallery, though, in response to this:

    How anyone could view this particular convergence and believe that life is a random accident is beyond me.

    Life may or may not be a random accident; either way, this event (or even its restful and healing effect on its attendees) definitely wasn’t. Aunt B organized it and painstakingly set the tone for it through the fantastic discussions she hosts at her blog. It was a self-selecting process, not a random one.

    More to the point of Kat’s post and your response, I think the reason for the larger disagreements in the political arena — the irrelevance of the water’s edge — are due to globalization and the information age. There’s no concept of defending ourselves against the outside because the outside is increasingly too abstract and malleable a concept. I would most likely perceive that I have more in common with a liberal vegetarian knowledge worker from, say, Mumbai than I do with a meat-eating blue collar Republican from down the block. That doesn’t mean I can’t try to find common ground with my neighbor — this is not a far-fetched example, and believe me I do try. But my point is that it’s not as simple as finding common ground and defending against the outside. The definition of “outside” seems to mean something different now.

  2. Katherine Coble Says:

    Could a right-wing talk show that truly asked for input from liberals about how to best see the end-game in Iraq, with reasoned back-and-forth discussions work? Could a left-wing talk show that saw George Bush, or any other conservative, as a human being with regular joys, pains, worries and loves, instead of McChimpy stupid-pants or whatever the pejorative of the day is, could this show be popular?

    why would it need to be positioned as a “wing” show?

    I’m trying to get away from “wing-speak” in general.

    Our “discussions”, if they can be called that, are no longer held within the framework of commonness.

    That’s what I mean. If you start with the premise of “this is a —- wing show that listens to the opinions of the other wing” you lose a sense of commonness and get a patronising forum that invariably condescends to the “other” wing.

    What about a show withOUT wings?

  3. Slartibartfast Says:

    Kat, you make a great point. I illustrated using the framework as things currently are; even I, Mr wishy-washy, could not take that step.

    But I think it would be worth a try. I have much sketicism, though, that the founders of this show could get it right.

    Funny, I remember years ago, when they started The View, they billed it a hosted by “women from all walks of life”. I remember thinking at the time that the producers at ABC must not consider stay-at-home mom a walk of life. The producers had a pretty tight circle of what they called variety.

    Back on point, I like your idea. However, it would have to be launched by a gozillionaire without an agenda; media producer types cannot be trused to pull such a thing off.

  4. newscoma Says:

    Exactly. I have tried to, over time, move away from my left wingedness to become more a thoughtful blogger. I admit I didn’t know what I was doing in the beginning. I wasn’t comfortable being shrill, so I changed and adjusted to what WAS comfortable.
    Slarti, you and I did this in Gnoshville that cold February morning. We had so much more in common than our political views.
    We had human contact, surrounded by your family and the clanking of dishes. We looked each other in the eye.
    Sometimes, I think that’s what blogging is missing, but on the other hand, it opens doors so you CAN have that long-term.

  5. nm Says:

    The groups wasn’t random, as Kate O’ points out. And selected groups, even self-selected ones, are always smaller than free-for-alls. So who’s going to present the talk show KC wants when they can get a bigger audience showing people yelling? So, Slarti, I’m afraid that your gazillionaire has to have an agenda: promoting actual discourse will be attacked as not the way we do things now, and the small audience will be used to ‘prove’ that it isn’t normal.


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