As Duck Dynasty fans rally behind the bearded reality TV family’s patriarch and Washington’s so-called power brokers attack each other over the budget, I can’t help but think about that an old etiquette tip that admonishes us not to talk politics and religion in polite company. Christmas is nearly here and most Americans will be joining together to celebrate, give thanks, exchange gifts, pray and, of course, eat. The Holiday party season is in full swing, and I think it’s the perfect time to talk about politics and religion.
I find that conservatives are more inclined to follow this odd rule as opposed to more progressive folks who speak their minds with greater ease. This dynamic is particularly true in bluer states. Regardless of where you live, it’s important for all of us to appreciate that the freedom we enjoy is directly proportional to our ability – and some would say- responsibility to express our values.
Political correctness needs to give way to substantive, respectful dialogue. In plain terms, that’s called people having a conversation. It’s old fashioned I know, but it’s important. In fact, I would suggest that the more we as Americans recoil from constructive discussion about the issues of the day, the less freedom we will ultimately enjoy. If people who hold fast to the American values of personal freedom, responsibility and individual empowerment are afraid to speak out then the growing forces of government will undoubtedly control all debate.
So this Christmas try it. Try having a civil discussion about the issues we face as a nation. Try disagreeing without automatically believing someone is an idiot or questioning their patriotism. At a time when, according to Gallup, 72% of Americans view big government as the greatest threat to America’s future, a good robust discussion about how to craft that future is more vital than ever before.
The trick of course is to not let the conversation turn into a debate where mashed potatoes, or in the case of my family, slabs of lasagna, go flying across the room.
John Podesta and Martin Bashir probably are not models to be emulated. They and others on both sides of the aisle are part of the problem. In today’s America we all too often equate the idea of expressing ones views with the cacophony of talking heads on television trying to out-shout one another. We think of an issues discussion as being more akin to the name-calling, snide comments, put-downs and dismissals we often hear and see on television or among our elected officials.
We too often view the debate from our respective political corners rather than as members of a community. We’re far too concerned with offending people with our opinions and not concerned enough with the lack of respectful, substantive discussion.
Here’s a quick tip for all you willing to dip your toe into the discussion – don’t start with subjects that will immediately cause a fight to break out in the dining room. In other words, if you know your mother-in-law is pro-choice, don’t initiate a conversation about abortion. Tackle subjects where common ground is possible and where emotions are less likely to get in the way of the debate.
When it comes to government, the enemy within is tough to tackle to be sure. But threats to freedom and society cannot be addressed if people are unwilling to express their views. If you think Obamacare is a disaster, tell people and tell them why. The fact that you can’t stand Obama is not a valid reason. If you believe the cutting of veterans’ benefits in the budget deal is a disgrace and the deficit it too high, then say so. If you think that taxes should be lower or the government should stay out of your personal life let folks know.
As Pope John Paul II was fond of saying to young people, “Do not be afraid” when it comes to talking about issues of faith. If you think there isn’t enough Christ in Christmas, then be proud of your faith and talk about those values.
The key to successful discussion is of course respect. When you commit to expressing your opinion in a respectful way a couple of strange things happen. Those who cling to extreme or unworkable arguments are quickly exposed for lacking a fully-formed or reasonable opinion. Even more importantly, though, we begin to realize that common ground can be found on a whole range of issues. We are not as far apart as the media and professional talkers like to suggest.
The Gallup poll is a startling example of that. Most Americans believe we have significant threats to our way of life and the vast majority of them feel government is what imperils us the most. It’s not the fight between social conservatives and fiscal liberals or the one between the Christian right and secular progressives. Not even the artificial battle lines drawn by the political establishments are our biggest problem.
During this season of expectation, faith and giving, we all must remember that those who are afraid to talk religion and politics for the sake of etiquette or political correctness risk handing victory to institutions that don’t want a debate about either.
In order for America to survive we must be able to have a civil conversation. In order for America to flourish in 2014 and in the years ahead we must be able to celebrate our differences with respectful dialogue. In order for us to remain the greatest force for Freedom on earth, we must recognize that there is more that binds us than divides us – and sometimes it’s okay to agree to disagree.