I’m interested in American politics – duh, as most of us are. I’m not super interested, but I do care, and I pay attention out of the corner of my eye. I regularly vote, and I try to read up on issues and make sound decisions backed up by the (hopefully) well formed conscience that has grown through my Catholic education and my ongoing prayer life and learning. I’ve been enjoying, in a matter of speaking, the debate funness going on. The Vice Presidential debate, in particular, caught my attention. I wasn’t overly excited to watch it, I didn’t catch the entire thing – about 2/3rds of it, but I thought it sort of gave us a snapshot of a typical political discussion in ‘Merica these days.
There is a reason barbers and restaurant servers try not to talk about religion or politics – you very well may upset someone, and you want a good tip from your customer. That’s our state – we’re afraid to talk about what we think are incredibly important things, because we may offend someone or we may get caught having to defend our position with facts we’re not all entirely sure of. And too often these facts are from various news channels that all seem to have different agendas and don’t usually represent issues (especially religious issues) with any thoroughness or real accuracy.
So I think this debate was all too typical, but not necessarily at debates, more like at bars and coffee shops and gatherings of friends and family. I think no matter what political party you affiliate yourself with, you have to admit that VP Joe Biden was less than polite. He interrupted regularly (82 times, according to a count by Republicans- I didn’t see another count anywhere), he laughed dismissively when Ryan was speaking, and he generally gave the impression that Paul Ryan had no idea what he was talking about. During a discussion about nuclear weapons in Iran, Biden thought it appropriate to laugh. My point isn’t to pick on Joe Biden, it is more to point out the dismissive, “I’m right and you’re a fool if you really believe what you’re saying” sort of attitude.
I have no doubt that Biden was presenting what he would like us to believe are facts. The problem is that I honestly don’t remember the words the candidates said during the debate this many days later. I watched the entire first Presidential debate and paid a great deal of attention to it, and I can only remember a little of what was said – instead, I remember the overall emotions and reactions I had to what they said. In watching parts of the subsequent debates, generally the same thing – snapshots, and in my muddled brain basic perceptions I left watching the debate holding of each candidate. My point is that Mr. Vice President Joe Biden did not make a positive impression on me with the attitude he took.
Candidate Paul Ryan was clearly nervous, was definitely a man thrown into an unfamiliar situation, but he also came in armed with information that he claims can be backed up by fact and by various studies – information that he hopes we take at face value. He took deep breaths, he drank lots of water, and he came across as thoughtful. He seemed to want to be accurate in his responses, and he kept his emotions in check throughout, even though it was obvious from the get go that maintaining his calm was going to be difficult and crucial through the interruptions and laughing and dismissive behavior. He tried to display a respect for when Biden was speaking, though he clearly disagreed.
How often, when we’re in a political or religious discussion do we become the Biden? How often do we dismissively shake our head, and laugh derisively at the person we are disagreeing with? Are we authentically listening to the ongoing discussion, or are we too busy preparing our response? Do we get angry, interrupt, get louder and more vehement in our reactions? I am 100% positive that I have had the exact same demeanor as our Vice President in arguments with people over politics or theology, and probably lots dumber things – and now I see that I totally failed as a Christian in these situations.
I’m not convinced that either Joe Biden or Paul Ryan really listened and thought through what the other was saying – and maybe that isn’t really what can ever happen at a debate at this level. Rather, while their “opponent” was speaking, it is almost sure that each was preparing his own response.
My grandmother used to have a saying: “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.” The arguing, the getting louder, the repetition, the disrespect for the person we are talking with will not truly change any minds or hearts.
We are definitely called to be discussing serious issues in our world today – be they religious or political. It is not something to just shy away from. But we are not called to win arguments. Because honestly, who ever really wins an argument? Rather, lets enter into real discussions about these serious issues that are close to our hearts. Lets have information that we have researched for ourselves instead of relying on tidbits from Fox News or CNN.
Above even the information and the party lines, let us approach political and religious discussions with love and respect for who we are talking with. Because that person you are talking with has Christ within them. And respecting and loving that Christ is far more important than winning any argument.
Post note: this is not an attempt to direct your voting decisions, or even a way to approach these crucial decisions. For more on that, see the write up by my much smarter blog-mate, Kristin.