Solving the World’s Problems One Conversation at a Time – Or Not

My Granddaddy and his across-the-street neighbor used to stay up late listening to the radio and “solving the world’s problems,” my Dad used to say. The first time I heard that expression I burst out laughing. After all, it’s a commendable pursuit, but often for naught.

We cannot really give up on the idea of problem-solving because we are surrounded by problems, some of our own making and others imposed on us. More broadly, we have political and societal problems that tend to worsen over time if left unaddressed. If they are addressed with counterproductive measures, we end up fighting over those.

It would be lovely if we would listen to each other instead of deploying dueling talking points or insults.

One guy who apparently tried to listen and engage with an adversary to no avail wasn’t even looking for an existential battle over his religion. He simply wanted to eat before sunrise during Ramadan fasting by picking up some Taco Bell. Well, one lady (if you can call her that) working a drive-thru window wanted to let him know how awful Muslims are in light of the September 11 terrorist attacks. While it was agreed that terrorism is bad, the conversation devolved. She suggested he, ugh, I cannot even write a euphemism for the disgusting idiomatic insult.

Oddly, she made this comment after he called terrorists monsters. She said, “unless you call me and change my mind, Muslims can… [insert disgusting idiomatic expression].” But, he was trying to change her mind by agreeing with her. So even logic is refuted nowadays.

She also challenged him on whether he thinks women should bow down to men and he responded women have equal rights with men. “That’s not Muslim,” the non-Muslim woman told the Muslim man. Now, that we have underscored the absurdity here, I see a silver lining. She gave the man her phone number in his food box so they could continue their dialogue on Islam and said she “would love to talk to him.” Wow, just wow. Maybe she really was open to a discussion. But she got fired, presumably for the horrible language and insults, so her teachable moment got real, real fast.

What can we learn from this? For starters, do not use profane language in a political or religious debate if you truly want to engage with the other party. Stay positive and open-minded (I know, this is can be very difficult). If you listen hard enough, you might hear something surprising or revealing about that other person’s perspective. You may or may not like whatever that may be. Still, if you gain a greater understanding, all the better.

Another lesson is to stop making snap judgments. In this example, one person apparently assumed that a Muslim man wasn’t American and was a male chauvinist. He said otherwise.

We love our labels. Redneck. Elitist. Wingnut. Libtard. Conservative. Liberal. Republican. Democrat. We’re getting to the point where some of these labels are losing their meaning. They’re just caricatures and where do you go from there? Nowhere productive.

There is a lack of consensus as to what the Democratic Party should be doing. They are arguing over whether to initiate impeachment proceedings or to plod along the current path (See Pelosi, Nadler). For Republicans, the Trump train rolled over a lot of people, but they didn’t cease to exist. It’s possible the pendulum could swing back again, away from populism and back toward pragmatism. Many American voters are independents, but you would not know it from consuming media, whether online or on TV. Nearly all political issues are framed as Democrats vs. Republicans, which is really weird given that there are disagreements within the respective parties on policy issues.

There are about two dozen candidates for president among Democrats and oddly, some critics are scoffing that is too many. I say, we could use a couple dozen challengers among conservatives to Trump. Contested conventions for both parties would be fabulous because it would require candidates to be more specific and persuasive. Ideally, then each main party would have a candidate who truly represented the best of their party rather than appealed to the lowest common denominator.

The biggest plus? We might start looking past labels and listening for truths.

The Sage Leopard,