The Controversatory

Burning Straw Men

My dad, raised on food stamps and welfare, voted Republican.

My grandma and grandpa, well into their retirements, voted Democrat.

My crunchy meditation instructor voted Republican.

I, on the other hand, vote democrat.

And none of us hate each other. We just have different values and priorities, and we can agree to disagree.

I don't believe I've ever met someone that voted for a republican because of their utter desire to remove all social support and safety nets, just so the rich can earn more money. But, they do think republican policies are more likely to help businesses, just like theirs, succeed.

I've also never met someone that voted for a democrat because of their burning passion for redistributing money so no one has to work again. But, they do believe that our country should have policies, such as single-payer healthcare, that they feel have worked in other countries.

And some people who voted for republicans want their gay friends to get married. But, some people who voted for democrats don't feel that's right.

And some people who voted for democrats are pro-life. But, some people who voted for republicans don't feel that's right.

What does matters is that these people are not the ‘people' that our current political discussion seems to be discussing. All the chatter on Facebook and social media seems to revolve around straw men: horrific people boiled down to only their worst opinions.

The Republicans are taking away affordable health care from the sick! Can't they see they're killing people?!?! Murders, the lot of them.

The Democrats are letting people get abortions! Can't they see their killing people?!?! Murders, the lot of them.

I promise you no one chooses to be against the Affordable Care Act or Pro-Choice because they're hoping for others to die. These issues are far too nuanced to be simplified in such a way. But, these simplifications are all we seem to see, and when it's all we see, it's all we seem to think is out there.

Never transform people into straw men. Never forget the real depth that exists with any issue. Never forget that people are complex. Never forget that people are people.

They have their reasons for their personal choices, their opinions, and the priorities of those opinions. Maybe you disagree with the reasoning behind their voting. Maybe you disagree with their values. Maybe you think they have the wrong priorities. Great: agree to disagree.

But…but they're WRONG!!!!

Maybe, if they're genuinely misinformed; some people are. Some people simply don't care and never will; the issue isn't a priority of theirs. But, some people may have spent many hours of research and discussion trying to ensure they have an informed opinion.

You could offer to have a discussion about the issue. But the other problem our nation seems to be facing is that people have forgotten how to have a discussion.

A discussion is an exchange of ideas: you can take or leave them. There is no need for conversion or agreement, only understanding.

If you enter a discussion by stubbornly believing, or (even worse) telling, the other person they're wrong, you will get nowhere.

If you enter a discussion refusing to actually listen to the other person because you absolutely cannot support their viewpoints, you will get nowhere.

If you discuss your opinions along with name-calling, and anger, you will get nowhere.

If you enter a discussion intending to change the other person's opinion, you will get nowhere.

The discussion may completely change your viewpoint, or it may stay the same. You may gain or lose respect for a person. You might learn some new facts about the issue, or you may feel like you're hearing the same-old retorts.

At worst, you may discover the other person is incapable of having a discussion, and is only willing to try to convert you and defend themselves aggressively. At this point, it may be beneficial to not discuss the subject with this person further: a discussion goes two-way.

But, you're never going to get to grow as a person if you refuse to have the discussion entirely. The only way to burn down the straw men we've built up over the past decade is to build a solid understanding of other's opinions. An understanding of another person's viewpoint is far more powerful than winning someone over. It will allow us to come up with mutual solutions to big issues, and stop people from thinking that Democrats or Republicans are opposites and enemies.

Political opinions are not an us-vs-them situation; opinions are not usually that black-and-white. Pretending that a person's political beliefs can be boiled down to a candidate they voted for has brought in the political tension that exists between party members today. Open discussion and understanding should help bring some of that tension down.