Jon Stewart and My Sister

I’m not a political blogger, but there are times when I make exceptions to what I usually do and this is one of those times. Also, my posts are never this long and I know you are busy, but if you can hang in there, I would appreciate it very much. One more thing, I don’t curse on the blog, but I broke that rule too. What is going on around here?

Blue Eyes, Noel and I are going to a march in Washington, D. C., Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity. I told Blue Eyes I wanted us to go. We got the grandparents to watch the young girls. We bought plane tickets and booked a hotel. This all happened in just days. We haven’t moved this fast since Blue Eyes’ and my first date. But that is another story.

I have a conservative extended family and they watch Fox News and I’m challenged by their ideas.

My friends are a pretty liberal group and sometimes they make me even more nuts.

I very, very, very much believe in Jon Stewart’s idea that we need to Take It Down a Notch and Listen To Each Other.

A few years ago, I led a political book group at a liberal church. We were talking about the ideas and the first person stated their liberal position, then each person was more liberal than the last, then it became a contest to be the most extra-super-passionately liberal, so by the end of the night, someone said “You know (right after Katrina), George Bush knew there was bottled water on a train headed for New Orleans and he stopped the train because he hates black people.”

And I’m thinking, WTF? Are you CRAZY?

Some time after that, my sister called and asked me about the Obama Nation book. The book said Barack Obama is a Muslim and a drug addict and a corrupt community activist, all backed up by footnotes from ultra-conservative bloggers.

And I’m thinking, WTF? Is EVERYONE CRAZY?

But in that conversation with my sister, I sensed a moment of truth, a moment of sparkling clarity, a moment worth remembering and trying to live again. My sister didn’t beat me up with the ideas in the book, she asked me what I thought and then she listened.

My sister taught me the Golden Rule of Reasonable Debate – Imagine that your opponent is your sister and you love her.

You aren’t trying to put her in her place or confuse her so she is speechless so then some imaginary-political-debate-referee can declare you a winner and grab your hand, raising it high above your heads.

You also don’t need to be quiet or take a weaker position so you don’t hurt her feelings.

There is another way.

1. Respect your sister.

You grew up with her, you know she isn’t perfect, you might still be mad about how she used to insist on playing the clock radio to fall asleep at night when she knew that it kept you awake, but overall you know that when she has a political opinion, it reflects what she genuinely feels is best for the country. When you give her this respect, you avoid all of the distracting, irrelevant arguments about the other side being dishonest, corrupt, uneducated, selfish, stupid and full of hidden motives.

“But They Are!!!” you might insist. No, they are not. I’m not a researcher or a political expert, but gut tells me that there are dishonest, corrupt, uneducated, selfish and stupid people full of hidden motives on all sides of the political spectrum, no side is free from it and no side owns it. There are times to talk about these people and what do to about them, but those discussion aren’t related to a debate about an issue or policy.

2. Listen to your sister.

You shared a room with your sister and you saw her do her homework and you know she went on to college and has a nice family, so there is a good chance she isn’t completely nuts. So, if she has an opinion that is very different than yours, it might be interesting to learn more about what she is thinking. Ask her questions. Listen more than you talk. Don’t busy your mind with your response just yet, try to really understand first.

If you really understand where your sister is coming from, even though you still don’t agree with her, you will be wiser for taking that time. And in all the ways we divide our politics in two sides, one side doesn’t have a monopoly on all of the good ideas. You might find part of her argument that you agree with or one way your idea might be tweaked to address a valid concern.

3. Love your sister.

You can’t agree with your sister just to make her happy, even though she drove you to rock concerts in High School that you will never forget, but you can do something else for her. You can challenge yourself and your ideas.

It is easy to look for the news that you agree with and hang out with friends you agree with and you can find ways to validate the opinions you already have. Then you can demonize our sister’s side and dismiss them and hate them. Or, you could always be listening and learning and challenging yourself. You could read a blogger you disagree with or watch the news station you don’t like, at least now and then. You could question what you hear from people you usually agree with, especially if it includes TV ads with grainy images and scary voices or speeches with lots of emotion and little substance. You can speak up when someone on your side is not being respectful or not listening.

By challenging yourself in this way, your ideas will have an integrity and honesty that your sister will appreciate, even when you disagree.

I know, I can hear you now, you are saying “I don’t have a sister,” but wouldn’t political debate feel different if we acted like we did? Wouldn’t we all be better off? Wouldn’t the country be better off too?

This is why I’m going to the march in Washington, D.C. Because I want to do whatever small thing I can do to promote the idea of reason in politics. I will blog about it and twitter about it, so be sure to sign up for updates on email, Facebook or Twitter. For my regular readers, I’ll still be around to tell you about why it takes me 55 minutes to pick up my kids at the day care 0.6 miles away. The politics will just be an added bonus during October. I would love if you would join me…


10 Responses

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  1. Sydney

    I like this. Listening, even though I don’t really know my half-sister, sounds like something a social worker would do. Keep me posted on picking up the kids so quickly too…I’d love to learn your tricks!

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  2. Clare

    I have a sister who fits your bill exactly, and I have had these sorts of conversations many times. Regardless, the analogy is a great one, and I am sure that in the future I will be using it.

    Hurrah for being a part of such an amazing event!!!

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  3. Thank you – so insightful and well said. When it’s easier to walk away from challenging relationships, it’s good to have a way to frame the dialogue and hang in there. For me it’s my dad, not my sister. But the mind trick is the same.

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  4. Leslie

    Thank you for sharing your approach to civilly handling people with polar opposite views, including your own family members. Listening is a good place to start, very good point. But, we have a big problem in this country, the amount of propaganda. Too much money is in the system, much of it corporate money. They buy the news broadcasters along with their commercials. Murdoch, owner of Fox News, recently gave $1 to a Republican party organization. Nothing new, but the amount of money dwarfs ordinary citizens. Now we have Citizens United case from the Supreme Court, declaring that since Corporations are people too, Just Like Me and You, that they have the right of free speech which the Supreme’s translate to mean unlimited money donations to political campaigns. There is no way for common people’s interests to win against that flood of money. Ordinary people are easily influenced by lies and propaganda because they just don’t have the time or inclination to become experts on every topic. That is why propaganda is so powerful. It’s easy to become frustrated with the resulting array of misinformation that circles around society, but there isn’t much point in being upset with the people who are influenced by all of this misinformation. Looking for points where we can agree is a good start. There is almost always some point of agreement to be found. This whole topic reminds me of the coffee party, I just looked them up and here is a quote from their “About Us” page: “We are creating models of participation based on responsible citizenship — a sense of civic duty, patriotism, and a respect for our democratic system of government. Our goal is an informed and involved electorate that takes seriously the responsibilities of citizenship, not only for the purpose of winning elections, but to effectively govern our nation on behalf of The People, and no other interest.” Maybe that is something to look into……

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  5. Well put. I am glad that your family decided to make such an important statement by travelling to D.C. Your daughter will never forget this!

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  6. Thanks for all the comments!

    Thanks Leslie, for you thoughtful comment. I agree that there are big problems to solve and corruption and systematic inequalities are serious and need to be addressed.

    My post, for certain, doesn’t solve a lot of political issues. I am just addressing how to talk about policy with a someone in person. I think there are other political contexts where my approach wouldn’t make sense. Like if a defense attorney was making his closing argument and talked about the good points the prosecution made. That wouldn’t work so much.

    It is a small place to start, but it is all I know how to do for now.

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  7. Sister

    Awesome post, Carol! You’ve hit the nail on the head. Everyone wants the same things: poor people to be taken care of, national security, the economy to prosper, etc. That is the basis for everything and why if someone has a different idea, I’d like to understand why. If we could talk constructively about issues on the data level, maybe we can see how much we really have in common and draw conclusions ourselves, without the media’s help.

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  8. Sister

    Talking about issues from the data perspective, here’s a source of data for the amount of money going to candidates and political parties to see how it goes to both sides:
    http://www.opensecrets.org/parties/index.php
    http://www.opensecrets.org/pres08/contriball.php?cycle=2008

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  9. […] wrote a post recently, Jon Stewart and My Sister, that mentioned, somewhere in there, that conservatives and liberals both make me […]

  10. Nat

    HAHAHAHAH I got to the part about mom’s clock radio and doubled over laughing.

    [Reply]

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