Today, I did what I do almost every Sunday morning. I watched “Meet the Press” and “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” with my husband. At the same time, I participated in exchanges on Twitter about the conversations on both shows – engaging with others in what I always hope will be spirited yet appropriate debate on the topics discussed on these shows. There may be snark, there may be sass, and sometimes there’s obvious frustration in the comments. These generally go quite well.
However, today was not one of those days. Today I was referred to as a communist because my value system is more liberal than some others would like it to be. I was called a “baby killer” outright on social media because I believe in a woman’s right to choose. I was informed quite bluntly that I am an idiot to think Mitt Romney meant anything other than kindness and/or comedy for his statements about women wanting to “get home by 5 o’clock to cook dinner” and his “binders full of women”. I watched as others tweeted about the appearance of women panelists on these two shows – about their hair, their voice, their physical stature – rather than about the substance and content of their very appropriate points of view. I was called a “dumb bitch” because I expressed belief in gun control laws, and shared a link to a study about how the proliferation of guns in America coupled with a reduction of gun control laws have contributed to an increase in gun violence and senseless death. I was labeled as stupid because I “don’t understand” that the President of the United States “totally screwed up” this “Libya thing”. I was even told to “shut up and go back in the kitchen” when sharing my opinions on health care and coverage for birth control. And I was accused of being incapable of making an intelligent decision because I align myself with the Democratic party and Barack Obama’s campaign.
Today was not about discourse. Today was about disenfranchisement. Today was about shutting down, not seeking to be understood or heard. Today was not about debate.
These interactions are both absurd and unacceptable. If you believe in pro-life policies, conceal-carry laws and a conservative value structure – I may not understand the why behind your beliefs, but I certainly will not call you an idiot (or worse). I will openly disagree with you and challenge you to defend your position. Sure, I’ll try and point out flaws in your logic – and you should do the same for me. It’s one of the ways we begin to see inconsistencies in our own beliefs, analyze them, and either adjust or confirm them for ourselves.
That’s what dialogue is – an attempt by two people with differing points of view to better understand the position and rationale of the other, all the while maintaining their own perspectives and being true to who they are. Dialogue is not name calling, proselytizing, or oppressing others. Dialogue is not shutting someone else down just so your own point can be heard. Dialogue is an equal exchange of ideas. You don’t have to agree with the other person – but you should hear them out. We all fall short at times – especially when our emotions get the best of us – but name calling and threatening is not the way to reach any kind of positive conclusion or resolution. I own that I am just as guilty of this at times (I’m recalling a recent series of tweets about “MittLies” in response to statements made by Governor Romney in recent debates), but I strive to be better. We need to end this “gotcha/zinger” approach to addressing issues and move to something more conducive to finding common ground.
Consider this quote:
“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” – Aristotle
As we move into the third Presidential debate, and the last two weeks of this election season – please keep this quote in mind. Help elevate the level of debate – and true discourse – by engaging in conversation with others about their opinions and beliefs. Let’s all try a little bit harder.
And I’m hopeful that President Obama, Vice President Biden, Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan will try harder, too.