In December I flew from Albuquerque to Salt Lake City with my wife and our two young children. We woke up at 2:30 am so we could arrive at the airport before a predicted blizzard hit. We successfully avoided the blizzard, but by the time we boarded the blizzard was in full swing. The high winds were making it difficult to deice the plane, and as a result, we spent almost an hour with the plane at a standstill by the gate. But what would normally be mere inconvenience became near-disaster due to the unfortunate fact that my two-year-old son reacts to airplane seatbelts like they’re hot branding irons. And, though the plane was stationary, FAA regulations (so I was told) required everyone—including my screaming, crying, writhing son—to remain in their seatbelts the entire hour we waited.
While neither of our two flight attendants allowed us to break the rules and unbuckle my son, they dealt with the situation very differently. The first attendant came by and told me I had to buckle my son, saying as she walked away, ”The FAA regulations don’t care if he’s crying.” Her I-don’t-care-about-you attitude left me seething. But later, after we had taken off, the second attendant came by to pass out beverages and snacks. In stark contrast with the first attendant, she was kind and understanding—”I’ve been there,” she said. And when I asked for orange juice, she even offered to make it a screwdriver (orange juice with vodka) because I was having such a rough morning. Her empathy made a world of difference in my mood.
Upon reflection, I realized that my experience highlighted the difference between unifying and divisive political discussions. In observing and participating in political discussions, I have noticed that people overwhelmingly just want to be heard. People seem to get most upset, not with what others say, but what they don’t say. For example, it seems to me that supporters of Black Lives Matter are far more upset with supporters of Blue Lives Matter for not agreeing that black lives matter than they are about their support for police. Likewise, Blue Lives Matter supporters want to hear their perceived opponents admit that police lives matter. No doubt, both groups would prefer the other group totally change their minds and join the cause, but I am certain that listening and acknowledging common ground would suck much of the venom out of our political discourse.
In many political discussions, minds are not changed—just as neither flight attendant allowed me to unbuckle my son to stop his crying. But our political discourse substantially changes when we act as the second attendant did: acknowledging the validity of others’ views. We can disagree without, as Lincoln put it, “break[ing] our bonds of affection.” I believe you will find in each article things to agree with. Even when you violently disagree with an author’s analysis or proposed course of action, look for common ground. And we want to listen to you. This month, we are featuring guest co-author Oscar Cordón Espinoza in “A Close Shave for American Masculinity.” We are always seeking reader submissions, so please feel free to submit them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading,