1/7/2002

 

Foes Need To Seek Agreement

 

Itís funny, in a way, how people position themselves as opponents when they have so much in common. Take for instance the recent debates over foreign policy, and to what degree the U. S. has needlessly brought animosity on itself. The ones who get angry over such criticism believe in their country, and want it to be safe from future terrorism. On the other hand the ones offering such criticism believeÖ in their country and want it to be safe from future terrorism. (If they didnít believe in it they wouldnít waste their breath.) The two groups have their differences about how serious the mistakes weíve made are (I donít think any reasonable person believes we havenít made any) and about when and where to discuss them. But both groups are patriotic and are after the same goal. You sure wouldnít know it from some of their reactions though.

 

One of the most humorous comparisons of similarities are the commune hippies of the 60ís and the survivalists of the 90ís. They would consider themselves diametrically opposed groups, and they certainly had real philosophical differences. But what did they both end up doing? Distrusting their government, going off into the back country, setting themselves up a separate community, trying to find ways to be self-sufficient, and trying to find ways to change the government and society to something they believed was better, often with counter-productive methods.

 

If we really care about the issues we differ over then it is important for us to find the common ground, acknowledge each otherís desire to improve whatever it is weíre debating, and clarify exactly what our differences are so we can make constructive progress. Why do so many get so far off course with name calling, posturing, and hateful rhetoric? Some of it is natural. Some people have neither the time nor the interest, or in some cases the innate ability, to think through the subtleties of our differences. They just know they donít like what the other side is saying and react emotionally. Thereís always going to be some of that. Then there are plenty of players in the public debate who add fuel to the fire: politicians who gain publicity and votes by demonizing the other side, media outlets that want to sell their product, foolish hot-heads who actually do want to advance their cause but think the way to do it is by villainizing the other side, not calculating the long-term results that invariably come with bad methods.

 

Itís up to you and I to try to stand against it. To not praise or encourage the hate-mongers, to not give them ear, to call it what it is when we hear it, to try to discredit them. This paper is often a good forum for local debate, but I wish it would do more to filter the useless name-calling that adds nothing productive.

 

So taking the foreign policy question as an example, and setting aside the few most unreasonable extremists at either end of the spectrum, and those who are just promoting some self interest, can you really believe that those who disagree with you are not also concerned about their country and about terrorism? So shouldnít we approach the debate with respect for each other? Take that attitude as a starting point for any commonly debated subject and we might be ready to actually make more progress and waste less time doing each other harm. And isnít that what the goal should be for all of us?