Terry Paulson

The Middle East is in turmoil. The Deficit is past 16 trillion. Our economy and job growth are limping along. Looming tax increases are on the horizon. The stark political choice Americans face is clear.

Both party conventions are over. The parties and their candidates have made their case in prime time. The "fact-checkers" and the fact-checkers for the "fact-checkers" have bombarded the Internet and the media with their version of "the facts." The campaigns and their Super-PAC supporters are flooding the TV and radio stations in the hotly contested states.

But what about you? Do you exercise your free speech by taking a stand? Are you having conversations across the political divide to state your views and to better understand why 50% of Americans are likely to vote against your candidate? Probably not. Most of us tend to watch our favorite cable shows, listen to our own talk radio gurus, and avoid any hint of political conflict with family or friends.

Why? Could it be that we fear that such conversations will escalate into attacks that we hear on the radio and read in online comments or in the op-ed letters to the editor. Supporters have even asked me, "How can you keep writing columns when people write such hateful replies?"

Polarized arguments are welcomed as "good radio" because they keep listeners engaged, and it's often the most critical letters that are printed in the paper to provide "balance." Such comments are not representative of most voters. In this age of email, voicemail, social media, and texting, reasoned dialogue gives way to quick emotional reactions. The part of the brain involved in such reactions is more likely to call people names than to encourage thoughtful discussion. Hopefully, we can admit that some of our own immediate comments, letters and emails could have been more persuasive with a day of thoughtful editing.

That's why when people write negative email responses to my columns, I usually compliment them for writing, acknowledge that they speak for many who disagree with my view, and often ask for a clarification on some point they made that I want to better understand. I've been often pleasantly surprised by the quality of exchanges such responses produced.

Some have apologized for the tone of their initial message and welcomed the opportunity to explain their position. Of course, in many such exchanges, neither of us change our strongly held political opinions, but we can agree that we are blessed to live in a country where we have the freedom to disagree and to influence one another.

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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