It seems that right now, political debate is more about attacking people than addressing issues. That was on my mind several weeks ago when SEU had the opportunity to host Congressman Dennis A. Ross, a Republican, and Congressman Darren Soto, a Democrat, on our campus for a special town hall event. The highlight for me was seeing the two congressmen engage in passionate, yet amazing civil dialogue.
Dennis A. Ross was recently a guest on the Framework Leadership Podcast. I had the opportunity to talk to him about the nature of political debate. I asked him how, in such a politically charged environment, we can return to civil dialogue. Here’s what he had to say:
Once you start assassinating the character, you've lost the debate. And the character assassination occurs here in more ways than one could ever imagine. It is used either to gain an upper hand in a debate, to raise money, or to just embarrass somebody. But the issues are going to come and go. When we start off our debates (in Congress), we say the gentlewoman from California or the gentleman from New York. We try to at least exercise, through words, a sense of civility.
I will tell you that I have probably just as many good friends on the Democratic side (of the aisle) as I do on the Republican side. My mother was a lifelong Democrat, and my father was a lifelong Republican. And they used to joke about how they would cancel each other's vote out when they would vote. But they never, ever got up from the table and walked away because of a political argument. And I think that we need to understand that we all want to get to the same destination. We just have different methods and manners by which we get there. That allows us to have that respect and civility for one another.
I get very heated. And I have to count to three (or three hundred) sometimes just to back off. But I also know this is where my impatience comes in. I also know that I owe the respect to the other person to hear their opinion.
As Christ followers, we cannot afford to sit on the political sidelines. We have to be willing to engage in civic discourse and stand for the principles that define our faith. As we debate the issues, we can’t let our message get lost in the noise as we get locked into pre-defined roles and stereotypes. As Congressman Ross stated, we owe respect to people on the other side of the issue. That is Christ-like and the only way to bring about a healthy change in our organizations and our country.