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Political Animals

We are all political animals. It was Socrates, nestled in the cradle of democracy, that first made this observation. According to Socrates, unless you are a god or a lower species, humanity is naturally social, communal, vocal, rational, and purposeful.

Very simply put, we like to get together and talk about how things are and how they should be. Of course, this arrangement is not possible without conflict. How can it be? Besides, life would be extremely dull. There are big questions to be answered. They range in size and in scope. Some are global; some are local, but we all have an opinion – whether it’s right or not. We all have a voice. We are all in this together. And that’s exactly the way we like it. Together and talking. We want this to work. We need this to work.

Unfortunately, according to research, we prioritize winning the argument more than being right on the issue we are arguing about. Personally, I have been on both sides of the partisan divide. I’ve been an elephant, a donkey, and I have even been called a rhino a time or two. (Actually, I’ve been called much worse.)

Nobody is right all of the time, but we all like to think we are. That’s the problem. We political animals have prioritized the argument. As a result, we have devalued the opportunity, dehumanized those with whom we disagree, and divided the community into warring factions. Turns out, we are really good at parsing out the weaknesses in someone else’s argument; we are just not very good at seeing the weaknesses in our own.

Besides, good thinking and communication takes work. Winning an argument is easy; it feels good, especially when other members of the group use hearts and thumbs to signal their support. Yes, political conflict is inevitable; however, we can bring a little more evolution to the conversation.

Instead of using the election results, whatever they may be, to widen the political gulf in our communities and on social media, perhaps we should find opportunities to build or rebuild a few bridges.

Here’s a few ideas:

* “Talk less. Smile more.” (Thank you, Hamilton the musical)

* Share a book instead of a burn. A friend of mine recently suggested that I read, Caste: The Origins of our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson. It’s an excellent read and I have in turn suggested the book to others.

* Focus on the conversation instead of the argument. Yes, we can all leave the thread thinking we have won the battle, but we are losing the war on decency.

* Humanize the issue. We may be political animals, but that doesn’t mean we have to be the most savage. If you are invested in the personal experiences of your political opponent, it is more difficult to label their motivations without cause. I often read these comments online: “They are evil,” and, “They are trying to destroy X because of Y.” Personal investment in the life of a political opponent makes these types of assumptions nearly impossible.

As the nation braces for election-related civil unrest, we as individuals can move either toward our best enlightened selves or our worst primitive selves.

What will it be? Civility or savagery? We can do this, ya filthy animals.