Terry Paulson

We must treasure our differences, not silence or demean them. Our commitment to freely allow people to disagree and to influence others helps keep America strong. It’s freedom of speech and our exchange of different ideas that helps provide the course-corrections our country needs as it finds its way into the future. In America, we manage some heavy tensions that require frequent adjustments. These tensions aren’t going away: Do we need more government or empowered individual responsibility? Does caring require a government program or local charity and a hand up? Is war never the answer or sometimes the answer?

Without diversity of opinion, we’re robbed of the value of dissent. If a minority opinion is right, the majority is deprived of the option to exchange error for truth. If dissent is proved wrong, the majority is deprived of its deeper understanding and commitment to that truth by testing it against the anvil of criticism.

Too many citizens have become “political tourists” who occasionally visit the political flow just prior to elections. Such short excursions into issues seldom open minds; instead, they just reinforce existing views. They vote out of habit, not depth of conviction.

The issues facing America today require more from citizens. When was the last time you sat down with someone who disagreed with your political views, listened, and even dared to try their views on for size? I’m sure you are thinking of others on the “other side” who ought to be reading this. No, what about you? Instead of quickly rejecting their position, seek clarity by truly understanding why they hold their views so strongly. Risk acknowledging points that help you understand their position. You don’t win a debate by belittling anyone’s position; you do it by changing hearts and minds. That starts with respecting the people you are trying to influence.

Saint Peter’s advice on discussing matters of faith fits politics: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (I Peter 3:15)

Political dialogue needs a lot more gentleness and respect. Seek first to understand and then to be understood. None will be perfect, but let’s each work to do our part to disagree without being too disagreeable.

Terry Paulson

Terry Paulson, PhD is a psychologist, award-winning professional speaker, author of The Optimism Advantage: 50 Simple Truths to Transform Your Attitudes and Actions into Results, and long-time columnist for the Ventura County Star.

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