A couple years ago, my wife and kids bought me for Christmas a set of Mel Brooks movies. I started watching a couple I had not seen before over Thanksgiving, like The 12 Chairs and Silent Movie. Brooks is brilliant, and over 90, he is still going. But one of the things about Brooks that I always found impressive was that he is not afraid to push boundaries. You just need to watch Blazing Saddles to understand what I mean.
The humor is not just humor for humor sake in several of Brooks’ movies. It can be seen as raunchy, offensive, wacky, and more, but it served a purpose, too. The extremes demonstrated the absurdness of much of society in the 70’s and 80’s. That demonstration, I believe, lowered the guards of many people.
I am not suggesting Mel Brooks is the answer to solve all of our political ills today. My suggestion is that we need something that can lower the guards of people so that they are not so quick to judge the other side.
What might that be?
I think the answer is ultimately a multi faceted approach, but here are my five ideas that could be considered:
- Step away from politics. Some of us love them and love to follow them, but many more just don’t care that much. Yet this latter group is still constantly bombarded with political messaging. Turning off access to this barrage of messaging will just make us all happier. This can be done both personally and through all the media that is available, of course the media needs to take responsibility there, and I am not confident they will. But if enough people do stop following, the media will follow.
- Drop our level of pride concerning politics. Understand what liberals have been saying for a long time, and many conservatives, too: we all have different points of view, and so what? When we embrace that ideal, it becomes much harder to get too upset and much easier to have a conversation. But the reason many cannot do that is, I think, simple: pride. To be absolutely sure you are right to the point that you call the other side evil is nothing but pride. No, the other side is not evil, the other side is simply different. Recognizing this will go miles towards lowering our guard.
- Yes, have a sense of humor. One of the best ways to ease tension is to laugh. We all need to laugh more, and laugh with each other, not at each other. That was part of the brilliance of Brooks, and other comedians of the time. They were aggressive, but they did not pick sides, and the ridiculousness was apparent. We need to be able to laugh together and when someone makes a joke you find offensive, refer to my 2nd idea above. Recognize humor apart from attacks (this should be apparent by the pointedness of the “joke” and to whom it is addressed), and don’t be too sensitive. Being able to give back in good faith is part of the fun.
- Actually talk. Radical idea here, but talking is not the same as yelling. We need to talk and part of talking is listening. All of us have been in an argument where tempers just keep rising and it soon gets out of hand. How often does that happen when we just talk? It doesn’t.
- Listen. Yes, this is in #4, too, but I separate it to talk about what listening requires: it requires more than just hearing words coming out of someone’s mouth. To truly listen, you must try to understand the argument being made to you. If you fail to do that, chances are you will not adequately address it in response and the other side feels unheard. Eventually, distrust grows, too. Note that this does not mean that you try to find common ground, which is not among my list here. It simply means that you identify the argument being made so it can be addressed. Failure to do this only results in talking past each other and developing distrust.
Of course there are probably more, but these five get us started. I say nothing about respecting the other side, finding common ground, etc. I think most of that can be abused, because who can disagree with, for example, helping poor kids. All too often such a tactic is only used to set a foundation for your argument and does not alleviate tension; further, ways to to help poor children are numerous and diverse. Simply helping children is not helpful.
I don’t wish to be naïve, but I find it abhorrent that people act the way they do these days. Its not so much that politics is dirty sport, it is a) the level that far too many people are involved in it and b) the level they take it to consistently. In other words, far too many people just go berserk over politics these days. From climate change, to abortion, to Supreme Court justices, to racism, etc, people take it way too seriously.
This is not to say that these issues are not important. To the contrary, I believe they are, however how we address them can help the problem or make it worse. All too often, people make them worse when they could make them better.