Al Franken and Rush Limbaugh have at least two things in common: Both have radio talkshows and both spend their air time tearing down other people, respectively Republicans and Democrats. Okay. They’re entitled to their opinions. But the insults and barbs that they hurl are a reflection of a much larger problem, one that profoundly affects our political and social landscape. Simply put, we can’t talk to each other about important issues anymore unless we’re certain that the other guy is “on our side.” We live in the era of knee-jerk reactions. Sure, it makes for good entertainment, and the aforementioned broadcasters are in the entertainment business, but when it comes to serious problems like the state of health care in the United States, dealing with the elderly, and the war in Iraq, we can’t speak to each other civilly. Hell, we can’t even speak to other other at all because as soon as one gets the words out that he or she is against gay marriage, for example, the person with the opposing viewpoint closes up shop mentally. All that’s needed to know is that the other guy differs from you in opinion and the discussion is over.
It’s really too bad that we can’t listen to the opinions of those we disagree with anymore. There are few places where discussion of both (or many) sides and resespectful debate are still practiced. Academia is one, though it’s a pretty politically correct climate these days. Even so, a college classroom is a relatively safe place to argue. Your opinions may be listened to and thought about. But in the “real world,” best keep your opinions to yourself or prepare to be insulted, then written off.
When we can’t listen to each other anymore about things that matter, true progress is all but impossible. Anyone who has been in a marriage or long term relationship will tell you that making it work is all about compromise, and there’s no way you can compromise if you don’t listen to the other with some respect and really try to understand her/his opinions. It’s not always about being right. It’s about coming to some kind of agreement so life can move ahead without serious negative consequences.
Sure, we can keep on spewing expletives, but who wants to live in that kind of culture? A good passionate argument is only fun when the parties involved don’t walk away with their humanity smarting. Maybe the whole idea of dignity is outdated. In a scary world, it may be a luxury. But living in such a partisan atmosphere keeps us stuck in the same ditch. It makes the world an even scarier place. Positive change becomes impossible, affecting everyone.
Good communication is apparently an old fashioned idea (except in the realm of technology). Well, it needs to be jump-started. Because without it, one thing is for sure: “It’s all over but the shoutin’.”