McClellan: The lost art of civil discourse - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Opinion

McClellan: The lost art of civil discourse

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Mike McClellan is a Gilbert resident and former English teacher at Dobson High School in Mesa.

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Posted: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 6:45 am | Updated: 9:54 pm, Fri May 9, 2014.

Which do you prefer?

“I get your point, but . ..”

Or

“Fascist.” “Communist.”

Most of us say we prefer the first when discussing politics, but the reality is too many of us really like the latter. I’ve been guilty of it. I imagine most of you have, too.

Our discourse is increasingly toxic, as everyone knows. “Polarized” is an understatement. Unlike a generation ago, where there was no Internet and no cable political channels, today, we can and do live in our own echo chambers: We listen to the radio stations that reflect our views, we watch either Fox or MSNBC to see our views legitimized, we can go to websites that reinforce what we believe.

And in each of those cases, the primary technique that many use is to demonize the other side, to not just disagree with the other side but to ascribe all kinds of spurious motives for their behavior.

And, as studies have repeatedly shown, we socialize with those who share our views.

So we live in our political bubbles, rarely if ever venturing out of them, and when we do, shouting invective — almost always electronically — at our opponents.

Ever read the comment sections after columns?

All of this came to mind after a discussion I had recently with a couple of co-workers. After 36 years of teaching high school English and retired, I’ve spent the last couple of years working part time with elementary kids.

Recently, in a conversation with my two colleagues, let’s call them “Angelina” and “Sarah,” I was reminded that we don’t have to shout at each other.

The topic? SB 1062, the religious freedom or anti-homosexual act, depending on your view.

For us three, the discussion quickly moved to gay marriage. Though I disagreed with Angelina and Sarah, we never shouted at each other, never insinuated that we were motivated by some evil reasons, and, in fact, found some common ground.

Despite our disagreement, we agreed that gay couples should have the same legal rights as heterosexuals; “Angelina” and “Sarah” just didn’t want churches to be forced to marry a gay couple, something we all agreed with (and something that hasn’t and won’t happen, simply because of our Constitution). We agreed that kids are inundated with what we used to believe were taboos, things that we agreed kids are too young to deal with maturely.

Instead of shouting, we laughed a lot during an otherwise very serious discussion. And listened to each other.

And later, thinking about it, I realized something: That if we actually face the folks with whom we disagree — absent the angry crowds that devolve quickly into shouting matches — we tend to tone it down, to treat each other as humans.

To find that, hey, “they’re” not so bad. In fact, they’re pretty nice. Even, gulp, reasonable. With good points. Some of which I share. We get beyond the caricatures we’re sold by the media and politicians. We find that, like Scout did in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” most people are good, “once you finally see them.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if we’d leave our bubbles more often and mix with those “others” we often are suspicious of? Wouldn’t we come closer to solving the many problems we face? Wouldn’t all levels of government operate better if they behaved like this?

I don’t know if we can get out of our bubbles, but doing so can give us more hope about our country and ourselves.

• East Valley resident Mike McClellan is a former English teacher at Dobson High School in Mesa.

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