Sex, , and politics, so goes the wise adage, are three subjects to steer clear of in polite conversations—particularly with people whose views you might not know—so as to avoid potentially inflammatory disagreements fueled by the passionate views of polar opposites. If we follow that advice, our discussions, it is suggested, have a greater likelihood—than not—of remaining harmonious and courteous if we avoid these particular minefields.
Obviously, our national elected officials, and those seeking office, must engage in political discourse, as that it the substance of their chosen careers. Given that our Constitutional rights and civil laws involve sex and religion, those otherwise taboo topics are open territory as well. So while politicians may have a wider berth in publicly commenting on these sensitive areas, it is the manner in which they engage and espouse their views—on those, or for that matter, any issue—that is so egregiously distasteful. Their flagrant posturing, attacks, accusations, distortions, vacillation, and often deliberate falsehoods, precludes any opportunity for rationality and reason, two essential ingredients if meaningful dialogue is to occur. Unfortunately, when respectful and civil discourse is absent, so is the opportunity to bridge partisan divides, build consensus, and solve problems. What we get is “politics as usual,” where everyone talks but nobody listens, and the lack of any solution is a foregone conclusion.
Conflict is a normal part of life, as we cannot be expected to agree on everything. However, if we are to co-exist, as well as solve problems in any arena, we must find the means to work through conflict. In striving to do so, there are civil “rules of engagement” that help facilitate discussion and negotiation. The late Senator Barry Goldwater once said, “To disagree, one doesn’t have to be disagreeable.” In this regard, a preponderant number of our politicians purposely break every rule in the book, especially two cardinal rules, the first being: if you’re out to win at all costs—demeaning and demolishing your adversary along the way—there is no way that you can disagree agreeably. Second, give up the need to be right; otherwise, rationality and reason go out the window, as thoughtfully listening to another’s point of view is not even a consideration.
This principle not only applies to politicians, but also to each of us in our daily lives—with our spouses, our children, our co-workers, etc.—as we respectfully engage in conflict with civil ears and civil tongues. While there are additional guidelines to consider, examining your motivations at the outset—am I in it to win, and am I willing to listen to and a different point of view?—are first steps toward disagreeing agreeably. Always bear in mind that you might not be right.