This has been the most disturbing and divisive election cycle either of us can remember. We began writing this piece by assembling a list of sound bites that ought to be consigned to a political “Hall of Shame.” But as we did so, we began to realize we’ve made our own contributions to that hall as well.
Now, don’t get us wrong. We haven’t engaged in hate speech or called for the imprisonment of a candidate. But as we started throwing rocks at others’ behavior, we realized some of ours was not beyond reproach either. As we all reflect on the past year, there’s a hierarchy of culprits we can look to:
1. The candidates. Need we say more? And beyond Trump and Clinton, many of the primary and presidential contenders have lowered the bar on political discourse and election strategy.
2. The media. The media has brought in paid partisans who do little more than recite their campaign’s talking points. News outlets claim to give us “balance” when what we really want is objective analysis by unbiased reporters, producers, and news anchors. After all, the media is often touted as the fourth estate with the responsibility to hold the government to account, and from our perspective, the media has not acted any more responsibly than the before-mentioned politicians.
3. The alternative media. The Internet is festooned with fiction dressed up as fact. And most of its users have become witless distribution tools rather than cautious examiners of what it offers—causing us to “feel” informed rather than “be” informed.
4. Friends (or former friends) and colleagues. We published a study a few months ago that revealed how terrified many of us have felt to venture into political discussions – and rightly so. Over thirty-three percent of us have had a political discussion blow up in our face—causing us to lose a relationship—or worse. We can all point to others who have behaved badly as they’ve attempted to assert their views or influence the views of others.
5. Me. Our emotions turned from righteous indignation to humble reflection as we asked, “How have we contributed to the decline?” If our motive in reviewing the past is to assign blame, we could certainly start with number one on this list and move down in that order. But if we really want to influence change, we should probably reverse the order and start with ME.
With this sobering insight in mind, here are our top six political regrets from 2016 and resolutions for the future.
• Regret 1: We have allowed profound disagreement to turn into personal judgments.
• Regret 2: We have cowered from opportunities to share our honest views on issues of deep moral importance to us for fear of being punished by an angry virtual mob—or worse.
• Regret 3: We have spent enormous time commiserating with those who shared our views and precious little exercising genuine curiosity to learn from those who don’t share our views.
• Regret 4: We have been passively vulnerable to the tyranny of search engines—investing time in information that is manipulated by algorithms designed to reinforce our biases. Search engines today are a powerful force for reinforcing ideological divisions as they sense what you prefer to read and serve up more of the same.
• Regret 5: We have contributed to contention by chuckling and—gulp—“liking” postings that were insulting but clever, if they advanced our agenda.
• Regret 6: We complained about the final candidates but did precious little early enough in the process to produce a better slate of choices.
These are hard pills to swallow. But if we’re truly honest with ourselves, we let ourselves down. Thankfully, we woke up this morning knowing we can do better. We don’t have to experience this type of divisive and toxic election again, and we won’t—at the very least, we won’t be participants in one. In the future we promise:
1. To not turn vehement disagreement into personal attack.
2. To periodically seek out reasonable advocates of opposing views—and listen deeply to them.
3. To never outsource our political opinions to search engines.
4. To get involved in the political process earlier rather than complain later about weak candidate options.
5. To never again forward or “like” hatefully clever but intellectually vapid material even about candidates or positions we oppose.
6. To continue to engage in the political discussion—and do so in the way we hope others do with us—even if we are unhappy with the results of yesterday’s election.
How about you? Got any regrets? How have you behaved in ways that you are not proud of? What resolutions are you willing to make to help prevent the disgrace of this last election? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
We believe in the goodness of our readers and would like to rally around what can be possible, rather than what just happened. Let’s vow to make it different the next time around.
Joseph & David
The ideas expressed in this article are based on the skills and principles taught in Crucial Conversations. Learn more about Crucial Conversations