Six People in the Room
Sometimes when I hear or read comments made by political partisans about each other I wonder just who they are talking about. Some Liberals and Conservatives say things about each other that just don’t match up with what I think I know about the beliefs and principles of the responsible, intelligent people of each persuasion. These comments seem to reflect very selective and highly distorted stereotypes that they have of each other.
It puts me in mind of the “Transactional Analysis” theory going back to the sixties that when two people meet there are actually six people present. There is each person as they really are, each person as the other sees them and each person as they see themselves. In the political comments I’m talking about each person sees the other in the least flattering light and themselves in the most flattering light and is intentionally blind to evidence to the contrary.
When someone sees themselves as all virtue and the other as all evil they are usually wrong on both counts. Too often we look at others in the way we want to believe they are and forgo the opportunity to see them as they really are. When we do this we miss out on the potential richness of a rewarding relationship and new insights.
When we identify someone as a conservative or a liberal we tend to put them into a box and assign to them a set of beliefs, principals and values that fit our stereotype of a liberal or a conservative and not listen to what they actually stand for. When we accidently discover that they don’t subscribe to all of our preconceived notions that go with the label we have given them, we see them as an anomaly. It’s hard to challenge ourselves with the thought that we may be wrong and that our stereotype is distorted.
I believe it’s more natural than not to reinforce our bigotry with incomplete and inaccurate information and dismiss out of hand any evidence that we might be wrong. We get knocked off balance at the thought of a Liberal who opposes gun control or a Conservative that supports gay marriage. We spin completely out of our axis when we hear a Conservative attack prayer in school or a Liberal say that affirmative action hinders Black progress.
If we would ask some questions and listen to the answers we might see things differently and even find that we have more common ground between us than we suspected. Unfortunately, for many on the extreme fringes of the political wings, the idea that they may have something to learn much less something in common with their counterpart is completely out of the question.
When we meet someone, the most productive thing we can do is learn who the other person really is and what they believe and to reveal ourselves in the same light. The more we show who we are and the less energy we devote to creating an artificial persona, the richer our experiences will be with the other person.
When you look at partisan web sites it is easy to see that the standard practice is to imagine the worst possible characteristics for members of the other side and apply them all to everyone. Then quote out of context, exaggerate, distort, pass on unsubstantiated rumors and anything else you can think of to make the other side look bad.
In the end we are all on the same team. We all share the same risks. We all need the same solutions. Finding someone to blame for a problem is not a substitute for a solution.