We are well into election season. On November 6 the voters will decide who will be our President starting in January and who will represent us in the Senate and the House of Representatives.
As the election approaches we need to decide which candidates we support for these offices and how we will make up our minds. To do that, we need to know as best we can which candidates we trust to be telling us the truth.
How should we talk about the election with our family and friends? Where do we look to find convincing evidence of the truth about all the competing claims?
Our conversations about the election are often far too shrill. Examples abound in the high decibel comments and personal attacks that proliferate in the responses to the views expressed in the “Election” section of Braintree Patch. These comments often discount utterly and completely any dissenting or questioning view. Commenters frequently make ad hominem attacks against other commenters.
I propose a different approach. Try this.
Find someone who you believe is likely to vote for the candidate who opposes your candidate. Then open a true dialogue. Ask what the person believes. Ask with genuine curiosity. Not in a challenging way, but in a way that makes clear you sincerely want to know. In the same manner, also ask why. Then listen carefully and respectfully for the answer. Only then should you ask for an opportunity to explain in the same manner what you believe and your reasons.
I offer three suggestions for these conversations. These ideas I derive from my long experience in mediation when I was a lawyer. I base them also on my current experience as a rabbi and as an arbitrator with the American Arbitration Association.
First suggestion: Don’t have important conversations like these on the phone or while standing up. Give yourselves the time and attention the discussion deserves. Do it somewhere comfortable and relatively quiet and free of distraction. Agree that the phone will not be answered during the conversation. And sit down for the entire conversation. If we want to make serious progress toward mutual understanding, we need to treat these conversations seriously.
Second suggestion: Try to explore together the factual basis for your positions and the reasons behind what you believe. Do this in a truly open way, with a genuine desire to learn. Do not seek as your objective to persuade the other person to a different view. No. Your purpose is to understand the other person, and make yourself understood, while maintaining a good relationship. This begins by understanding what facts the person is considering and why the person believes those facts and why the person thinks they are significant.
How can we uncover which claims are true? We hear competing claims in our conversations and on TV, on the radio, in political ads and political debates. How can we tell which claims are based on true facts and which are not?
Fortunately, that’s quite easy. There are many websites that review such claims in a non-partisan and objective fashion. You can find these websites easily by clicking HERE .
Please consult these websites. Please circulate the list to family and friends. This way both you and they can check the facts directly. We do not have to be at the mercy of the advertisers and the media to get the facts.
Here is my third suggestion. Make sure you’ve understood the other person’s view. Here’s how to do it. When the other person has done explaining, before you start explaining, say something like: “Please tell me if I’ve understood you. I hear you saying that you think the following issues are most important for you.” Then you say what the issues are. Then you go on, “And because that’s what is most important in your view, you plan to vote the way you are planning to vote because you believe your candidate is more likely than the other to be effective in achieving what you hope will be achieved on those issues.”
When the person with whom you are discussing the issues agrees that yes, you have fully understood the other position, then ask for the opportunity to explain your position in the same detail.
Respectful disagreement, with clear understanding of each other’s viewpoints and values, does not weaken a family or a friendship. On the contrary. Such disagreements, when conducted with respect, strengthen those relationships by deepening our understanding of one another.
We make progress in our political discourse by striving toward the truth of which each of us owns only a part.
May our discourse be civil and our friendships be strengthened as we consider and exchange our views in a spirit of genuine curiosity during this election season and throughout the new year.