“Oh, he’s going in for politics, I guess…he acts that way, affable and agreeable to everybody.” –Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little Town On The Prairie
Right now, political fever is running high in our household. Animated conversations on the news of the day run rampant around the dinner table, and little pitchers with big ears and bigger mouths are listening and asking questions.
While I certainly feel comfortable speaking my mind freely amongst friends and family, there’s always the risk of misunderstanding, and I also want to be careful to model productive methods of discourse in front of children. We don’t condone sarcastic put-downs or dismissive rudeness in our speech to each other, but I’ve caught myself exhibiting a bit of snarkiness when discussing parties not present; so when I occasionally let slip an unguarded word or two about the Crazies Out There, I’ll have to stop to give a brief lecture on How We Do Things.
In the wider world, judging from the conversations I “overhear” online and even in person, this topic deserves a revisit. Of course election season can provoke strong opinions and emotions, and has the potential to bring out the worst in everyone; but even if common civility isn’t always enough to rein in some of those fiery passions, common sense ought to be.
I certainly admire passion and a spirited defense of one’s deeply held beliefs. But there’s a wide gulf between simply defending a position and winning someone over to that position. I’d like my children to grow up and become clear-thinking adults who not only can form good opinions, but also are competent enough to be good ambassadors for their ideas.
So I point out that standing up for what you think is all well and good, but not if you push someone else down in the process. While it may be briefly satisfying to vent your frustrations over a disagreement, in the form of a sarcastic put-down or vituperative tongue-lashing, the ultimate vindication would be to actually win the other person over to your point of view.
When I catch an argument between my children escalating into an angry altercation, I try to step in and ask, “What is your goal here? Are you trying to make her angry, or do you want her to agree with you?” While my children are typically honest enough to admit it when they, being angry, don’t care if they make the other person angry in return, I expect them—with proper coaching—eventually to learn the prudence of not burning your bridges.
There’s an excellent passage in Scripture that is my guide in dealing with conflict:
“But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition…” (II Timothy 2:23-25a)
This verse refers to winning people over to the message of the Gospel, but I quote it to the children frequently as a guide for how to persuade others respectfully into agreement. And I quote it to myself when I need to be reminded of my gold standard for political discourse.
Or, to put it another way, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.