Monday, October 15, 2012

The Courage of Discourse

I got a handwritten letter today. The letter came from someone I’ve never met. Carol lives in the nearby town of Marshall.  While I’m not sure how she got my address, I’m glad she wrote.

She wrote me this letter, explaining some of her decisions to vote democratic and for Obama in the upcoming election.

A letter from Carol Dixon
Before I opened the letter I considered it. I wondered if this hand written envelope enclosed a letter from someone espousing political views. Before I even opened the letter I thought about the fact that we do need to be using our voices, our pens, and the tools of communication to share our opinions with our neighbors.  We don’t have to agree, but we should feel empowered to discuss our ideas, even if those ideas are different from those of “our” established political party lines. This is the power of democracy that I feel is commonly overshadowed by media pundits, the commentary of editorial talk-show hosts, and the pervasive and simplistic arguments of “We’re right. They’re wrong.”

Not knowing what the letter would be before I opened it I decided that no matter the position presented, I would reply with a letter that acknowledges her feelings and opinions, and thanking her for writing to start the dialogue.

Thankfully, I opened the letter to find it expressed her personal opinions. Based on her life and family experience she intends to vote a straight democratic ticket.

What I didn’t find was a finger pointing at me with “you should” or “what you don’t know…” that I feel has slid into political discourse. That kind of dialogue devalues the listener. It supposes you are incapable of a decision. It supposes that you’ve given no thought or consideration to your experience and what you witness in your life. We all have opinions, experiences, and feelings. If we tune in to what’s inside us instead of repeating arguments or ideologies conveyed by the media, we’d be much closer to the democracy we claim to be part of as Americans.

I love that she wrote to start a conversation among her neighbors. I love that she wrote for what she believes in, based on her experience, to members of this county that are largely republican, and I love that she spent her hard earned money on the paper, envelopes, and stamps to send this mail to people.

I deeply respect that she has opened herself up to the dialogue with her neighbors, those who agree, and those who disagree. It may produce mail that is filled with vile and bitter tones, rather than a calm response of personal opinion in opposition that makes up a true discussion. Regardless, she has knowingly opened the door to this discourse, and I admire her courage.

I talk politics sometimes, but I generally do it in the company of close friends or relatives. I don’t generally use Facebook or Twitter for sharing my political opinions because I believe its purpose is to connect people, not divide them (and our current political structure is very divisive). But Carol’s letter reminds me that as long as what I present is my opinion, my feelings, based on my experiences, it’s a fine idea to talk politics, because this type of discourse is the cornerstone of our nation.

Perhaps, I’ve taken to heart the expression to not talk about religion, politics and money (or is it sex) in mixed company, to garner a more peaceable existence. Then again, if I do that am I short-changing what it means to live in a democratic society?

What do you think? Do you talk politics with your neighbors? Why? Why not? 

(I seek a civilized conversation. All comments are welcome as long as they are thoughtful arguments rather than combative assaults on a difference of opinion.)

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