Monday, January 10, 2011
The Art of Conversation
We tell frustrated toddlers to ‘use your words’ in expressing themselves, to communicate their feelings. We extol the virtue of talking things out, making lists of pros and cons to see both sides of a situation. And yet the need for civil conversation in our society in order to discuss some of the most complex and crucial issues is at a crisis. From expunging offensive words from a great American text to putting those with whom we disagree in the crosshairs of a shotgun, our nation’s tendency to polarize the opposition into an ‘us vs them’ situation is counterproductive to the ideals of a democracy. How can I hear your points of argument if I’m too busy shouting my own? Who wins while trapped in the gridlock of the political battlefield? Instead of remaining entrenched in our own position, productive discourse over our differences, ideological or cultural, may lead us to common ground. But if finding common ground makes one lose the next election to the other team, or money from lobbyists, or popularity ratings, how willing would you be to budge from your fortress? Worse yet, with the news cycle driving policy, not even the viewers are willing to give the other side a chance, as if it would threaten their identity to the core.
In the midst of writing this, my school just honored President Obama’s request for nationwide moment of silence for reflection and prayer, allowing our nation to be unified for that brief moment. Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps we need less conversation and more silence. I’m willing to at least discuss that option.