By Riley Fink
As previously mentioned on this blog, this morning we got the chance to listen to a presentation by writer and film producer Julie Winokur at the Washington Center. Playing for us a documentary she produced entitled “Bring It to the Table,” the topic of dealing with political discourse was brought to our attention. In it, Winokur sought to better understand the beliefs of people on all sides of the political spectrum. Rather than actively participating in a discussion with another person, she played the role of a sort of moderator; she asked questions to get to the heart of her subject’s convictions, and intently listened.
Offering up a response to a student question about dealing with such disagreements, Winokur further highlighted the significance of listening to the person’s countering point of view. As opposed to labeling the countering opinion as “wrong,” attempting to understand the reasoning behind the perspective helps to better comprehend the individual’s thoughts. She likened most people’s idea of listening as “waiting for the other person to finish talking.” Instead of being so concerned with asserting the correctness and superiority of our viewpoints, we should take time to listen and appreciate opposing opinions. Why do people feel the way they do about certain issues? Figuring this out unlocks a meaningful connection to and understanding of your political “opponent.”
“Rather than being one two-party nation, we are becoming two one-party nations.”
Winokur noted that around the time of the 2000 Presidential election, many Americans complained that the two major political parties were too similar. Today, that no longer seems to be a concern. Referencing a New York Times opinion piece, she aptly summed up a major source of conflict present in American society today. “Rather than being one two-party nation, we are becoming two one-party nations.” Rarely do political opponents take time to listen to one another. Obstinate partisanship on both the left and right prevent any real progress on issues that matter.
Winokur offers up a valuable, and perhaps necessary, lesson in surviving the highly polarized political discourse of today. Demonizing someone simply because you disagree with them will not create unity, and will only stall potential solutions to problems in their place. Practicing this with friends, family, and peers will allow yourself to see long-held positions in a whole new light. Getting to know where your political adversaries are coming from can make all the difference.