Vehemence and Vitriol

| | Leading Organizations

We love to hate politics and politicians.

In a US Presidential election year the vitriol flies feverishly from both sides of the aisle.  And it doesn’t just come from the politicians.

I saw someone post a plea on Facebook last night to make Facebook a “politics free zone”.  Part of me cringes at that because I believe open political discourse is essential in democracy.  Yet another part of me understands what she means because I am not seeing a whole lot of actual discourse going on.  And right now I don’t believe social media is a place where meaningful political discourse is likely to occur anyway.

Mostly what I see are canned sound bytes and accusations of who is lying, wrong, misguided, etc. being hurled.  Campaign strategies seem to focus on shedding light on the other candidates flaws, missteps and misdeeds because apparently that is what wins elections.  We say we don’t like all of the mud-slinging, but to the extent it continues indicates we are all complicit even if we have simply surrendered in resignation to this as an unfortunate reality.

At times the campaign seems like just another Reality TV show with perhaps an attempt at better behavior.

Kate Nasser asked a compelling question the other day that I think applies here:  “do you really want to change things or do you just want things to change?”

Given the combination of an increasingly complex and fast paced world with a seemingly ever-shrinking attention span, we are often left with nothing more than sound bytes to hang our opinions on.  Yet there is a mountain of things to consider and understand for every one of those sound bytes.

Complex issues are often dumbed down in an attempt to simplify at the expense of real understanding.  Unfortunately oversimplified points lead to oversimplified counterpoints until we have lost our ability to distinguish fact from opinion.  In the absence of discernment how can we actually understand the real issue let alone make up our own minds?

I’ve also wondered how many people today are developing their own opinion of the candidates based on actual conversations among people with different views.  It seems we may be spending too much time “preaching (or listening) to the choir”.  We are of course naturally drawn to those who agree with us and to those opinions that match our own.  We are more likely to spend our time listening to the information channels that mirror our views rather than challenge us and provoke us to think deeply enough to discover something new.  Yet are we choosing or merely following if we don’t sincerely consider alternative points of view?

This doesn’t just play out on the national political stage It plays out every time a group of concerned citizens come together to address a problem.  It’s never as simple as we would like it to be.  There are often different interpretations of the “real” problem, in addition to disparate views on the “best” solution.

Yet we cannot solve any of the problem(s) at hand unless we can find our way to “we” despite all of the structures and processes that reinforce “us vs. them”.  That includes although is not limited to the political process.

We really do need leaders who can successfully “reach across the aisle” in every corner of our society.  We expect and even demand this from a President.

But what about the rest of us? 

Maybe it’s time to ask ourselves: am I being that kind of leader – the one who sincerely reaches across the aisle?  What might it look like to be that kind of leader in this campaign, right here, right now?



Enter A Comment

Georgia   |   13 October 2012   |   Reply

Thank you, Susan, for a thoughtful article of what we face as leaders in a sharply divided nation… On all kinds of fronts. While I have been frequently dismayed at some of the fanaticism, and the willingness to subvert facts and truth, I have had some amazing conversations with people who are willing to collaborate to pull together as much information as we can so all of us can make an informed decision. On Facebook. Now, I have to say it has been rare, and there have been those who have called me names, but I have enjoyed when people recognize we are all one, in this together, and it is up to us to make our world the best it can be. That is what healthy teams do. If you want change, make it happen!

Susan Mazza   |   16 October 2012   |   Reply

Thank you Georgia, I think the political discourse has definitely become unhealthy. A while back a friend who is a history buff shared with me that George Washington was actually opposed to the two party system as he feared this kind of divisiveness would ultimately emerge. We have a nice neat “us” vs. “them” to contend with and I don’t think we can wait for or expect the system to correct course. We have to be the change we wish to see.