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


  1. says

    Rosa — Part of the problem, it seems to me, is the absolutist kind of thinking Friedman highlights, where any compromise or collaborative answer is viewed as a weakening, dilution of ideology, or more to the point, as a capitulation. When thinking is this polarized and people retreat to “we get it, you don’t” or and “I’m right, you’re wrong,” the conversation is over. And if people then don’t have any sense that we actually need each other to reach a critical common goal (such as creating a great family — or a great country), then the separation just gets worse instead of the stuckness compelling reassessment. The illusion that one day one side will win absolutely begins to prevail, and in turn, this leads to power-based, instrumental tactics to conquer the other side, reinforcing the vicious cycle of absolutism that created the war in the first place. I personally agree with Friedman’s article, AND I sense that those who have learned the little trick of absolutism are not yet ready to acknowledge how deeply stuck our country is or their role and responsibility in that stuckness. I love your post because it gets at that responsibility, and I believe we need to be doing everything we can to be a constructive third party to the conflict. This video by Bill Ury of “Getting to Yes” fame illustrates that role. Whether Friedman’s answer on the economy is the best one, who knows, but those who are critical without the will to explore the differences at depth, who find advantage in keeping things blocked indefinitely as part of an ideological war need to be called out by the rest of us — that’s Friedman’s point, I believe, and its an unbelievably important one.

    • Rosa Say says

      Well said Dan, you explain the challenge quite well. We can be quick to blame the ideology of party lines, and that (with future electioneering) is a big obstacle, but the situation we’re in does seem to go deeper than that to where the answers to our economic problems are almost secondary. We need a new social contract both individually (on personal responsibility when elected), and then with how we rally for additional support in our lobbying and decision-making (giving mainstream media dramatic soundbites like the “class warfare” ridiculousness isn’t helping things). The president is surrounded by economic advisers, when all will admit that the best they can offer is their best guess gazing into their crystal balls. What he really seems to need, are those behavioral advisers who can coach our congressmen (and the president as their leader) toward getting unstuck, such as with new vocabulary that will not scream “I capitulated! I lost!”

      Your trust program would be excellent for this team Dan!

      Us too, all of us. We must do our own part as you say… I find myself thinking about this more and more, this new “social contract” we must get to for a more positive way forward.

      I have not seen that video and will watch it later this evening. Mahalo for the link.


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