Wednesday, April 10, 2013

This Is Important - Let's Not Talk About It

This morning, my Google News page included an article about an upcoming movie based on the Occupy Wall Street movement. The article itself was written by a conservative-leaning author, and, of course, the author felt compelled to mention...

Actually, I don't really want to talk about what this particular author had to say, especially since any of my liberal friends can probably make a good guess. What I want to talk about is the fact that my initial impulse was to blog about this article, and then I said to myself: "I'd better not ... if I post anything political, folks will quit reading my blog."

Upon consideration, that thought bothered me more than the original article I found on Google News. I don't know how true this is in other places in the world, but here in America, we seem to have an unhealthy relationship with political conversations. Discussion of anything political, in many circumstances, is considered to be impolite and taboo.

For example, when I used to work at A Certain Bookstore, we were forbidden from posting politically-oriented material in our cubes, or from wearing clothing with political messages. I assume there was some fear that someone would ask "So, who are you favoring for President?", and within an hour, we'd have divided the building in half by political party and we'd be battling each other with paper cutters and staplers.

Also, during last year's Presidential campaign, I saw at least once Facebook post stating something along the lines of "I am sick of hearing about politics and I am going to block anyone who posts something political." This bothered me at the time. Aren't the months leading up to an election the time when we should be most interested in discussing politics?

Unfortunately, I think the problem is that we as a people are no longer capable of actually discussing politics. As soon as a politically-oriented issue comes up, we retreat to our respective red and blue corners, put our hands over our ears and start shouting talking points until we're out of breath. "Discussions" like this aren't productive or useful; they're just loud and insulting, which is the reason we try to prohibit them in polite social situations.

I give our political parties most of the blame for this. They train us to react with fear and anger as soon as a hot-button issue comes up, like gun control, or funding cuts for social services. If we all treat the folks in the Other Party as monsters or morons, we're much more likely to support Our Own Party without question or deviation. We've been divided into teams, and we've been told that the other team is plotting the worst sort of evil.

The words "liberal" and "conservative" are frequently used as insults, and this alone should tell us that we've lost our objectivity.

We need to be able to talk about politics. We need to be able to step outside of our red or blue boxes to understand the things that our fellow citizens are concerned about. We need to be able to empathize, to consider, to compromise. We need to be willing to take ownership for our country, our government, and our problems, and we need to have the patience and maturity to work together to produce a future we're willing to live with.

So long as we find ourselves unable to do anything other than stand in the corner and shout, we're not going to produce anything other than apathy and political gridlock. If, however, we're willing to come to the center and talk, we might actually learn a lot, and we might actually find solutions.

The alternative is to reserve our Facebook posts for discussions of Dancing With The Stars, and leave our country in the hands of the professional politicians -- and it should be obvious to everyone just how well that's going.