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…