Posted by: smstrouse | September 10, 2016

Is Trans-Partisanship Possible in Politics Today?”

51lRMs9372L._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_Mark Gerzon gets it right. For at least three-quarters of the book, he tells it like it is. And I don’t think “it” is anything we don’t already know. We are a polarized nation, living in our silos of left, right, democrat, republican, conservative, progressive, etc., etc.

We bemoan this situation, which has caused troubles from governmental gridlock to hostilities within families and broken friendships. It’s so much easier to talk and Facebook with those who think like us than to try to enter into a conversation with those who don’t. And believe me, I get it. Even though in theory I think it’s important to dialogue with those of differing views, the actual practice is another story.

I have a good friend who (gasp) is a life-long Republican and (double-gasp) an admirer of Donald trump. We’ve learned to avoid political discussions. But at a dinner a while back, she bemoaned the fact that she isn’t able to have those kinds of discussions with her liberal friends. Again, I got it. But I wasn’t ready to go there.

But Gerzon doesn’t let us off the hook. He paints our sorry picture, then gives us ideas for changing the frame. And that is when it gets really hard. Becoming transpartisan won’t be easy. Even something as simple as accessing news sources that give a different pshe-likes-itoint of view from mine (e.g. Fox), is a huge stretch.

As uncomfortable as Gerzon’s recommendations made me, though, I couldn’t help noticing the similarities between what he’s proposing and what I talk about in The INTRAfaith Conversation (oh, how I hate it when I have to practice what I preach!) He even uses a resource that I discovered this summer at the North American Interfaith Network gathering: The Difference Between Dialogue and Debate. For example:

Debate

  • assumes there is a right answer – and I have it.
  • is combative – participants attempt to prove the other side wrong.
  • is about winning.
  • entails listening to find flaws and make counter arguments.
  • I defend my assumptions as truth. I critique the other side’s position.
  • I defend my own views against those of others.
  • I search for weaknesses in others’ positions.
  • I seek a conclusion or vote that ratifies my position.

Dialogue

  • assumes that many people have pieces of the answer and that together, they can craft a solution.
  • is collaborative – participants work together toward common understanding
  • is about exploring common good.
  • entails listening to understand and find meaning and agreement.
  • I reveal my assumptions for re-evaluation.
  • I re-examine all positions. I admit that others’ thinking can improve my own.
  • I search for strength and value in other’s positions.
  • I discover new options.

This makes so much sense to me – in the interfaith / intrafaith arena. But when it comes to bridging the partisan divide, I admit that I’m having trouble getting past “debate” mode. Especially in this election season. So much is at stake. So much is wrong and frightening. I believe there is a right answer, at least in terms of voting.

And yet. There are those thoughtful people on the “other side,” like my friend who is willing to dialogue. And I know there are conservative Christians who have complained that we on the religious left are unwilling to dialogue with them.

Perhaps the first step – before I can manage to turn on Faux News – is to examine my own intractability, my need to be right, my inability to listening be open to changing my opinion. If it is the same process as in interfaith / intrafaith conversations, then in the same way my religious identity has become even stronger, while being open to the beliefs of others – the same should be true of my political identity.

Mark Gerzon has issued a challenge we can’t ignore. As difficult as his suggestions may be, they’re now in my consciousness, niggling at me like stones in my shoes. I thought I could dump them out until after the election, but they’re still there, making me very uncomfortable.

Maybe that’s the only way it can be for now.

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