To Resolve Polarity, Dine and Discuss

I grew up in a house that was essentially non-political. My dad trended toward conservative views, and my mom toward liberal ones, but neither would label themselves Republican, Democrat or anything else. That said, they weren’t fence-sitters either, and they voted zealously, believing that the ability to weigh issues and vote on them was a hallmark, and the privilege of being an American citizen. It was an honor relatively new to them, for they were just 6 years married when Hawai‘i became our 50th State, and my dad was a Korean War vet (the war had trumped their honeymoon plans) so to deny that new privilege would have been downright unimaginable.

My mom was president of the local Toastmistress Club. Therefore, that weighing of the issues of the time was something which happened regularly at our dinner table. My parents would each take a side (even if they already sensed their agreement), debate them, and then turn to me and my brothers and ask, “So what do you agree with?” Not ‘who’ but ‘what’ — it was an important distinction. Then they’d ask, “Why?” for we had to be able to explain whatever stand we took. We couldn’t yet vote at the polls, but we could vote for the family — as long as we listened enough first to form a worthy opinion, ‘worthy’ because it balanced our gut-level values with additional learning and open mindedness. Equally expected, was that we’d get on board with any decision the family arrived at. Opting out was not an option.

My parents had an agreement: They would never vote in a way which would cancel the other out, for that wasn’t the way to go forward and make their votes count. If we got stymied, an issue was tabled for later, giving it (and us) more time to simmer. We eventually came to a decision for everything.

To come around to a prevailing decision weighing the pros and cons we all listed wasn’t a sign of weakness. Quite the opposite in fact; it was testament to the power of thoughtful discourse, and our innate intelligence and initiative. That’s what being a citizen was; getting informed, getting involved, and getting on board enough to go forward. If we’d come to the wrong decision it wasn’t that big a problem” there’d be future dinners, and future discussions to resolve it. And imagine what we’d be getting done in the meantime!

Was it naive for us to grow up thinking that all ideology could eventually get resolved in this way? I don’t think so.

That’s why out of all the Op-eds I’ve read lately, this one by Thomas Friedman for the New York Times appealed to me most: Help Wanted — Leadership

In part, he writes,

If the president really wants to lead from the front, he should summon the Democratic and Republican leadership, along with all 12 members of the House-Senate deficit “supercommittee,” to join him at Camp David and tell the world that they are not coming back without a Grand Bargain — one that offers some short-term jobs stimulus, a credible long-term debt reduction plan with entitlement cuts and tax reform that increases revenues.

We desperately need that for two reasons: We need to do our part in leading the world out of this crisis by stabilizing our own economy. And we need to show that we can still act collectively. The toxic paralysis in Washington is, in and of itself, slowing growth. It is keeping a black cloud over the center of the country and creating a sour mood wherein people just want to hold on to what they have.

Not everyone will agree with Friedman’s “Grand Bargain” but we sure need one so we can go forward.

Pizza and fries
Image Credit: Kevin Dooley on Flickr

How ‘bout I call you?

For the last three weeks I’ve been working on a project with someone who uses the telephone for nearly all our communication. Occasionally his call is to ask if he can drop by, because he’s in the neighborhood working on another project.

He breaks most stereotypes, for he’s young, has an iPhone and Gmail address, designed and maintains his own website, but he prefers to call, and to talk. He considers texting to be unprofessional, and he won’t ever email unless it’s off-hours and he’s pretty sure I’m waiting for an answer of some kind. If I email him, I know the phone will ring as soon as he reads whatever I had sent, so he can answer me that way instead. I asked him if he engages with social media, and his response was, “You’re kidding, right?” To be completely honest, I’m still not sure if that meant yes or no.

The punchline to this short story? Though way, way out of my comfort zone, and likely to be a one-shot deal (we’re working on a construction project together) this has been one of the most enjoyable projects I’ve worked on in a long, long time.

I’ve come to notice just how much person-to-person or voice-to-voice communication with this person has added to the entire experience, because neither of us opts for making it techno-efficient. Most of the work we accomplish happens as we converse.

We take the time to talk, and it’s not that much more in terms of the time we add, but it’s exponentially more in what we achieve. Those little adds share more with each other, often simply in being that ‘more’ you cushion information with when speaking with each other in real time — we used to call it ‘civility.’ Our social graces in conversation have become a huge factor in the overall project experience, so much so, that I keep asking myself — why oh why have I been so quick to give up on the telephone in favor of email?

Let me say again, that this is a construction project. I’m not coaching him, and we’re not having tea and crumpets — we’re solving problems, stressing through building codes, permits, supply irregularities and labor issues.

As odd as it may sound, I’m rediscovering the wonder of the telephone.

Can we talk?

In the archives: On the Art of Civilized Conversation