Taming the Rhetoric
- Created on Tuesday, 06 December 2011 21:01
Last night I had the pleasure of moderating a conversation about divisive and polarizing rhetoric impacting our political discourse and subsequent policy outcomes in the past few years. Our "conversationalists", Rev. Rachel Morey, Elianne Farhat, and Aasim Shabazz, came from different sectors of our society including, the labor movement, religious communities and the private sector. They offered their personal perspectives on the topic and reflected on how they see public discourse influencing the communities they are a part of.
The intent of the event was not to host a panel of experts on rhetoric, messaging and marketing, but rather gather together a group of concerned citizens working through their own communities to change the conversation and enact positive social change. We wanted to draw out real voices and discuss how Minnesotans engage in political conversation and how we come to political solutions that benefit the common good.
At the JRLC office, we are waging an ongoing campaign to reclaim the word "politics." In our cultural lexicon, the term has become tainted with negative connotation, but by its definition, politics is simply the process by which we make collective decisions. We engage in politics in our everyday lives, whether it be at work, in our faith communities, or in our homes. The conclusion that the panel seemed to come to was that the process and external influences that weigh on our political structure are to blame for many of the negative outcomes.
We began the conversation by reflecting on the question, "how have political conversations in the past ten years or so changed." Panelists offered insights regarding the relationship between identity (whether it be religious, cultural, political, or unaffiliated) and political participation. They lamented a sense of disenchantment that exists in younger generations that causes people to resist engagement and turn to alternative forums to voice their opinions and concerns.
With social media and other new platforms for generating discourse, the nature of how we have conversations has changed and it seems to be easier for people to posture themselves as experts. In our soundbite culture, it makes sense that rhetoric escalates quickly and leaves little room for authentic conversation.
As a means to combat this, panelists suggested resisting the language and mindset that there are always winners and losers. Not every issue and social problem has clear sides and if we want to truly solve the root problems we face, we should approach solutions by looking to the specifics of the issue.
In an increasingly diverse country and state we need policies that reflect the multiplicity of ideas that are available. We must work to break out of insulated "bubble conversations" that continually reinforce our own opinions and biases. Working to develop honest relationships that are not based on temporarily aligned interests is the key to working together. Mutual respect and an understanding of each others highest values could alleviate our tendency to dismiss opposing views as wrong and allow us to find real solutions.
Thank you again to our great panelists, it was an illuminating evening and a great beginning to what should be an ongoing conversation. Check out more pictures on our Facebook Page, and read some reflections from one of our audience members!