Winners and Losers in Political Discourse

“We need to learn to tone our political rhetoric and partisanship down.”  Those were the words of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) in an email to Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson (R) just last week, a day before she was shot in the head by the crazy gunman.  Giffords seems to be saying that people of opposing “sides” could and should find ways to work together!

Is it possible for us to stop seeing our political discourse as a battlefield where there are “winners” and “losers?”  Can’t we talk without the red-faced arguments?

Below is another excerpt (part of chapter 11) of Meryl Runion’s How to Restore Sanity to Our Political Conversations, which WordStream will be e-sending as a gift to US Congress members in the coming weeks in honor of Rep. Giffords.  [While I type this, I can hear an argument underway — not conversation — on CNN; two pundits talking heatedly about the events of January 8, interrupting each other with their faces red]. – Marti Williams

From Chapter 11 …

At its extreme of political thinking, dualistic categorization concludes: 1) you’re either liberal or you’re conservative, and 2) one of those categories is good and the other is bad.

After all, we all know there are two sides to every story.

“Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.”  ~ James Bovard

Two sides to every story

When two employees don’t get along, some managers conclude there are two sides to every story and the truth lies somewhere in between. That’s a false objectivity, a logical fallacy called false dichotomy, which they use to dismiss issues as personality conflicts. Sometimes there is equal culpability, but this kind of dualistic thinking prevents the manager from finding out if this is one of those times. This kind of manager might ask a kitten and a wolf in a pen, “Why can’t you just get along?” In the manager’s mind, he or she is being objective and neutral. Not so.

If you insist that kittens and wolves solve their own problems, you’re likely to end up with a lot of wolves and few kittens. Or you’ll have wolves and compliant kittens. I’ve talked with plenty of employees whose coworkers support the “wolf” instead of the “kittens,” not out of conviction, but out of fear. It’s no way to run an office — or a country.

Dualistic thinking can also show up in the form of assuming one side is all right, and the other is all wrong. A manager might decide that two sides to every story means there’s one side worth listening to and one that isn’t. They conclude one side is accurate and one is defensive. This is a common way of assessing political issues.

More dualism: the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat

Our “Izzie” (the emotional-driven, reptilian-like part of our brains) attitudes toward winning intensify the dichotomies. We divide the world up into winners and losers. I like winning, don’t you?  But that doesn’t mean I want to live my life like it’s a competitive sport where I fight daily to triumph over some hapless loser. It’s nice when every conversation doesn’t have to be a debate with a victor and vanquished.

Our culture heralds winning. Our culture vilifies losing. If you’re not winning, you’re “losing,” with all the associated mortification that losing implies.

We learn that the world belongs to those who win. Here are some of the “life is a conquest” slogans that many take as a blueprint for living:

  • There’s a winner and a loser and nothing in between.
  • The winner takes all.
  • Oh, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
  • The majority rules.
  • Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.
  • Winning isn’t a sometimes thing, it’s an all time thing.
  • The person who said winning isn’t everything never won anything.
  • Show me a good loser and I’ll show you an idiot.

Do an search on the word win, and you’ll get 374,378 results. There are books telling you how to win over everything from liberals and conservatives, to diets and fear. There is a strong message that life is a war to be waged and won.

And there’s a stronger message that political conversations are wars to be waged and won.

[Source: How to Restore Sanity to Our Political Conversations, Meryl Runion (WordStream, 2010). From Chapter 11]


About WordStream Publishing

WordStream Publishing is an independent publisher with a focus on both print and digital formats. WordStream Publishing is committed to amplifying the voices of the most creative, inspiring, and progressive authors out there. We publish in a range of topics: memoir, contemplative life, peace and justice, spiritual disciplines, and historical fiction.
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