Your boss. Your spouse. The other driver. The opinion writer from the news service you typically read while quaffing your petite vanilla bean scone with too much powdered sugar. Your mother.
All seemingly disconnected types of people, right? Yet they do, in fact, have something in common: they’re people you’ve disagreed with — some more than others. And, if you’re open-minded about it, you will admit that when you disagree or argue with them, you’re really only right probably, oh, about 50 percent of the time, right?
I’ve been fascinated lately with people’s beliefs. What they think is right. And more to the point, how much they know they’re right.
This, in spite of the fact that we’re becoming a more tolerant society on so many traditional issues these days. Even the Pope himself is talking about not judging gay people, forgiving those who’ve had abortions and welcoming back divorced Catholics into the formerly de-frocked liturgical fold.
If this much religious tolerance continues increasing at this pace, even the Baptists will start talking to each other in the liquor store. Or the dance hall. On Sundays.
Yet, there still remain a few key issues — especially in politics — that people just can’t unclench their opinion-slathered minds from, changing in ways that would be healthy for them, for others and for public discourse.
People go to unbelievable lengths to glom onto and mete out their rote beliefs, new information be damned. This happens so much that I refuse to talk politics anymore, even when making idle chatter at a house party, preferring, instead, to be the one who tells Mike Tyson that the human ear is not a culinary delicacy.
Oh, and by the way, just because you believe it — whatever “it” is — doesn’t mean you’re right. Seems as if all one need say is, oh, it’s just my opinion – therefore, by definition, it’s not wrong and nobody can argue with it.
I got news for you: that’s just not the case. Opinions can be, and often are, flat-out wrong. Two-plus-two doesn’t equal five, the Kardashians aren’t normal and Donald Trump doesn’t understand a lick about foreign policy, interpersonal decorum or the value of anyone who doesn’t “look like him” — regardless of how much your opinion wants to believe it’s so.
Mick Cullen waxed brilliantly on this calcified cerebral approach — way better than I ever could have:
I have had so many conversations or email exchanges with students in the last few years wherein I anger them by indicating that simply saying “This is my opinion” does not preclude a connected statement from being dead wrong. It still baffles me that some feel those four words somehow give them carte blanche to spout batshit oratory or prose. And it really scares me that some of those students think education that challenges their ideas is equivalent to an attack on their beliefs.
But why are political conversations so, well, divisive? Why are people so wedded to their beliefs? Many blame the usual cast of characters, including the:
- internet and its not-so-social media that makes our attitudes so parochial and our language exponentially coarser
- liberal broadcast and print media
- right wing radio
- 273,149 cable shows spewing hate disguised as opinion and opinion disguised as legitimate news.
The result is that people — thinking people at least — who are tired of being talked at vs. talked with just close off to what you’re saying. That’s why I’ve stopped talking politics — the rhetorical juice just isn’t worth the argumentative squeeze.
Here’s a simple test to illustrate the point:
- You’re a lifelong Democrat and you’ve been a proponent of abortion rights for as long as you can remember, huh? Okay, great. Now sit down and actually watch this video of Planned Parenthood executives and then have the electoral balls to rethink your position.
- The blue blood coursing through your Republican veins never imagined that cops would disproportionately harm blacks because, well, you’ve never experienced it in the lily-white neighborhood where you live, right? Then just see what’s happening with all the new body- and dash-cams and challenge your petrified beliefs.
- You support (or don’t support) the Iran nuclear deal. Yet can you cite a single specific reason as to why, or do you just hoot and holler when your candidate barks out the party line, freely slinging political daggers at the opposition?
Do you see the point now? This stuff really matters, meaning that the candidate you’ve traditionally supported shouldn’t be auto-Christened every two-to-four years. Neither should all the issues that go hand-in-hand with your party’s motherload of a platform.
I think it’s Voltaire who said something like: “People will forgive you anything but boredom.” Trust me, you are by far the most boring person in the room to me, your spouse, your boss, the opinion writer and even, yes, your mother, if all you do is dust off and trot out the same tired beliefs, reflexively, unthinkingly imposing them over and over and over.
You’re better than that. And, I don’t want to listen to it, thank you. This appears to be the year voters want radical change; it should also be the year voters change themselves, too, by thinking in new ways about each issue, each candidate.
Oh, and remember that you have two ears and one mouth; try to use them more or less in that proportion — you’ll learn a whole lot more by listening than by talking.
You’ll be glad you did and so will your mother. You might even be interesting enough for me to talk to at a party. Unless Donald Trump wins, of course … then none of this matters anyway.