Collaborating with others is not always easy. However, anyone who has ever had to endure group work would likely tell you that the success of any group venture is dependent upon the strength of cooperation amongst its members; that the limits of any organization’s capabilities are defined by people’s ability to respect others’ ideas and work with each other. This is a principle that continues to prove true in the academic and working worlds alike, yet always seems to be forgotten when election season rolls around.
American politics has long been defined by adversarial relationships amongst representatives, which is somewhat understandable given the amount of power and pressure inherent in being an elected official. However, the competitiveness and aggression prevalent in Congress is completely unnecessary outside of Washington. Political party bashing and partisan aggression among voters is completely pointless and counterproductive to societal progress and harmony.
Think about how politics are discussed in the public sphere. From news programs to comment sections, political issues are almost always framed as us-versus-them, Democrat-versus-Republican, affairs. Personally, I cannot count how many times I’ve heard or read remarks like “liberals are ruining this country,” “never trust a Republican” and other garbage. It’s so odd that we are somewhat conditioned into this type of black-and-white thinking due to bombarding media coverage and other influences, because it is so different from how people actually think and feel.
The opinions of voters (or anyone, for that matter) are nuanced, and cannot be categorized in black-and-white terms like liberal or conservative nor defined by party affiliation — not every liberal loves Obamacare and not every Republican agrees with Reaganomics. The careers of voters are never tested by their allegiance to their party like politicians’ are, so why do we care so much when it’s completely unnecessary? We are one nation of people that will face the consequences regardless of how well our political party cooperates with the others.
Dismissing and categorizing others based on their political beliefs or party affiliation is disrespectful, and damages the less-prominent cooperative relationship voters share with one another. Anyone can influence the voting decisions of another even if they do not directly negotiate as politicians do, and dismissing someone’s beliefs only serves to divide them from you and weaken any influence you two may share with each other. I cannot speak for anyone else, but I personally find myself less inclined to listen to someone’s argument if they belittle my beliefs or the validity of my opinions, and I imagine others would feel the same way in a similar circumstance.
Speech is a powerful tool, one that can serve to build or break connections depending on how it is used. Unfortunately, the norm in our political sphere tends to be rhetoric that accomplishes the former. Far more vitriol is spread about politics than about religion, despite both being deeply held beliefs. Instead of attacking those who believe differently than us, we should seek to understand why they hold the opinions that they do. Politics may be an adversarial sport in Washington, but it does not have to be in the public sphere. We can pay closer attention to how we speak and listen to others to strengthen our relationships and change the nature of the conversations surrounding public policy.
Collegian columnist Sean Kennedy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @seanskenn.