Just as I was desperately wondering what to post on my blog today, my column was published in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Read it here or read it here:
In my life, polarization sits squarely in the political space between me and my father. I grew up like many suburban kids, far more interested in shopping and gossip than world news and national affairs. No one discussed politics or religion at the dinner table in our house.
In the past 10 years though, my father, who has always been politically conservative, has not only become more so but also more outspoken.
At the same time, I spent four great years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a fifth studying abroad. The people I met in Madison, the intellectual environment and my time abroad rapidly turned me into a sponge for new ideas, values and the nuances of culture. I gradually became more liberal on most issues.
Slowly, conversations with my dad heated up. We rarely argue, but he often e-mails me conservative columns raking Democrats and the mainstream media across the coals. When I get inspired, I reply with my own thoughts or the counterarguments of national columnists I respect and agree with.
The debate has landed on my blog, where long threads of comments have resulted from my posts on immigration or the president.
In one way, our views illustrate the kind of polarization that has become a national obsession. Commentators talk about it. Books have been published on it. Politicians blame it for the inability to pass important legislation. In August, the Journal Sentinel published the responses of a non-scientific survey based on the question: “How polarized are we?”
But unlike highly confrontational campaign ads, inflammatory speeches by intensely partisan politicians or the shallow take on issues expressed on television news programs, discussions between me and my dad help us understand each other’s point of view.
Considering how strongly we disagree on many issues, you would think we would not be able to converse at all. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Avoiding rhetoric and genuinely listening to all sides certainly helps.
If only more of our elected officials could have half as many productive, reasonable conversations as the average American father and daughter have, we might make some progress.
Instead, special interest-bound congressional members and extremist media pundits have become the voice of national politics. We have been told we are so divided and so polarized that we can hardly speak to each other. But it’s not true.
I recently started working for a locally owned medical supply company in the area. My direct supervisor is a National Rifle Association member whose passion is teaching gun safety.
I personally wish firearms had never been invented, and I confess when I saw “NRA” embroidered on his shirt during my interview, I was concerned about how much I might end up censoring my own views at work.
But I have realized that in the business world, we learn to respect each other’s opinions. I get along great with my boss, and we have plenty of interesting discussions in our department. Most of our work force is plenty productive without total personal and political agreement.
If only our national debate could more resemble the everyday conversations of average co-workers, families and friends, we might make more compromises that benefit our community, city, state and nation.
We need to question the motives of our candidates and elected officials. We should demand they stop contributing to the relentless stream of rhetoric in our media-saturated world and start participating in the daily dialogue happening between average American citizens.