My family’s political views range all over the spectrum, from libertarian to liberal, with lots of issue-by-issue gradations in between. I was nonetheless surprised to get into a political discussion over breakfast (while out in Utah) with a brother-in-law with whom I expected to disagree.
I’m pretty good at disagreeing, and I was even before I spent decades making my living in courtrooms. I have a reflexive yeah-but capability, and general skepticism toward self-appointed authority figures, which probably comes from being the youngest girl-child in a large, opinionated, family. In sixth grade I took great pride in debating whether marijuana should be legalized from different viewpoints at different times of the school year.
I won the debate both times, which I considered all in good fun–on that issue, at that time, when nobody had any real intention of legalizing pot.
Now, political discussions seem so much more fraught, and we see so little respectful debate, or skillful, informed rhetoric modeled for us. We seen even less good faith problem-solving collaboration. Growing up, I read George Will and watched Bill Buckley, who could both be contentious and even pompous, but never snide or demeaning to somebody with opposing views.
So imagine my surprise, when Uncle Bob and I–who “should” have disagreed on nearly everything, right down the line–instead agreed on a lot sources of present societal difficulties. On topics as diverse as campaign finance reform, the Fairness Doctrine, age limits rather than term limits, off-shoring jobs, the federal budget, and what to do about wealth inequality, Bob and I were of largely the same mind.
We found differences in terms of, “So what do we do about these issues?” but we agreed generally on causal factors. Any skilled negotiator will tell you, that agreeing on a mutually acceptable definition of a problem is step one in getting parties to work together to resolve that problem.
So I was encouraged by the conversation, but also daunted. Why wouldn’t I expect that a guy who’s been part of my family for decades, a thoughtful man, one cares for our planet and the denizens thereof, would have some common ground with me? Maybe even a lot of common ground? I know better, and going forward, I hope to do better.
Where do you see people doing a good job of disagreeing without being disagreeable? I am interested in this issue not just as voter and former attorney, but also as a novelist. If my protagonists can’t learn to have honest, respectful differences with each other, then their happily ever after might not be ever after, after all.