Many seem shocked about Saturday’s shootings in Arizona, including that of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. I am not so shocked. The rhetoric people have been using these past few years when “talking” about politics has been so ramped up and mean … and lacking sanity! It was just a matter of time before someone half off of his/her rocker took the insane conversations to another level. Yes, I do think that part of the issue here is that we have lost the ability to be civil when talking about politics, and we have forgotten that we are all in this together … and that children and crazy people are listening very, very intently to what — and how — we say what we believe and think. Words do matter. We should all look in the mirror and restore some sanity to all of this! — Marti Williams, Publisher
The following is an excerpt from Meryl Runion’s How to Restore Sanity to Our Political Conversations:
A simpleton’s plea for reasonable dialogue
Some say the court jester had an important role in the King’s court. In the guise of a fool, the jester could speak truth that penetrated defenses and hit home without triggering a reaction. Comedians are modern day jesters. Ironically, while posing as simpletons, some political comedians ask the most challenging and insightful questions of their political guests. And while the very serious politician Al Gore wrote a book appealing to the nation to engage in reasonable dialogue, it was a plea from comedian Jon Stewart that had the most impact and stirred the most interest.
A reasonably reasonable appeal for reason
Comedian Jon Stewart made his plea for civilized dialogue in 2004 on the now defunct show Crossfire. He asked the show hosts Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala to stop fighting, to stop interviewing knee-jerk reactionary guests who argued unrepresentative extreme positions, to stop allowing emotional provocation to pass for dialogue, to stop trying to win by overpowering, and mainly to stop being part of politicians’ divisive strategies. He asked for honest arguments that hold politician’s feet to the fire in civilized discourse.
Clearly neither Begala nor Carlson had a clue what Stewart wanted. They kept trying to figure out whether Stewart was asking them to be harder or easier on the people they interviewed. They seemed to think the only alternative to “beating up on someone” is “sucking up.” Neither host had the first idea of what it might mean to be tough without being abusive. Before you decide I’m putting a halo on Stewart, let me say that, ironically, Stewart didn’t appear to grasp the difference either. Stewart called Carlson a “dick.” I talk about the need to avoid labeling in later chapters. Perhaps different rules apply to a jester in Stewart’s pay grade than ours. In any case, I invite you to practice what you preach when you make your appeals.
What was Stewart talking about, anyway?
While Begala and Carlson didn’t understand what Jon Stewart objected to, the head of CNN President Jonathan Klein did. He said, “I guess I come down more firmly in the Jon Stewart camp.” Klein went on to say he would prefer a substantive discussion of current events and controversies. “I doubt that when the president sits down with his advisers they scream at him to bring him up to date on all of the issues,” Klein said. “I don’t know why we don’t treat the audience with the same respect.” And I don’t know why we don’t treat each other with the same respect. Note how Klein’s comment contained some humor as well. The picture of the president’s advisors screaming at him to keep him up to date is both illustrative and amusing.
The ball is in our court
Canceling Crossfire was a start. Jon Stewart’s appeal got the conversation started. And no doubt, six-year’s later, his “March for Reason” will add to the discussion. This book takes it from there. It will teach you what a reasonable dialogue is and how to have one. That way, you won’t be following in the dubious footsteps of our national media. Remember, this book is for you. So even if you don’t care much for Jon Stewart, I invite you to make the Jon Stewart request at your kitchen table and water cooler. I don’t suggest you say, “Stop being a dick.”
You can say:
“I’d love to have a collaborative discussion about (political issue.) However, as soon as the topic comes up, it seems things get adversarial. Let’s have an honest conversation rather than a feud.”
And, in case you haven’t noticed, I’m doing what Jon did. I’m asking you to:
A. stop fighting,
B. stop parroting knee-jerk reactionary pundits who argue unrepresentative extreme positions
C. stop allowing emotional provocation to pass for dialogue
D. stop trying to win by overpowering,
E. and mainly to,
F. stop being part of politicians’ divisive strategies
I’m asking you to start being a part of a growing awakening group of people who restore sanity to political discussions. I don’t have Stewart’s gift for humor, but I am a bit of a jester and a simpleton. I keep the tone light so my words can find their way past your defenses. I care very deeply, and sometimes the things I see and hear and the way we treat each other break my heart. It’s a serious topic and the stakes are high. I want to say that on my planet, we don’t behave that way. But on this planet, people do. And that’s why I make my plea. That’s why I invite you to make yours, graciously enough and clearly enough and collaboratively enough — and perhaps humorously enough — that others can hear.
[Source: How to Restore Sanity to Our Political Conversations, Meryl Runion (WordStream, 2010). Chapter 1]