Politics and Controversy: Can We Do Better?

8933234641_070b6103ab_z I don't like to delve into politics too much. It's not that I don't follow them; I do. It's not that I don't think about them or discuss them with friends; I do.

But sometimes I get so tired of what politics and controversial topics in general have done to my friends and family. And I'm exhausted by what it's done to my Facebook and Twitter feeds. People arguing, people name-calling, people standing on soap boxes, people saying things like "It had to be said," people posting links to "the best article ever written on this issue."

And nobody's mind being changed.

And a wake of anger, frustration, and hurt feelings left behind.

I dream of something better than that. There has to be some other way to live and interact with each other. What follows are two areas which, if we can be honest with ourselves and change our thinking/tactics, will allow us to begin to do this "life" thing a little better.


For as much as our society has progressed and developed, for as much knowledge and awareness we (should) have because of the internet, our current media climate isn't too far removed from the days of "yellow journalism" during the Spanish-American War. We're moved by flashy headlines, catchy tweets, faux journalists who can sit around a table and argue with each other, and labels and buzz words like "the one percent," "the war on terror," "obamacare," "lamestream media," "toxic politics," "big government," "conservative," and "liberal."

It's gotten to the point where someone can tell me their views, and I can usually tell which TV stations, websites, and personalities they listen to. (And if you say, "I watch/read stuff from a bunch of places," I'll respond, "But I know which ones you actually listen to.")

While we're quick to point out the biases of the news outlets and TV stations of the "enemy camp," we should all understand this: As much as we want to believe that the media sources (companies AND people) we follow have integrity and care about us and this country, they are all first and foremost businesses and money-makers.

They don't put bread on the table unless they have viewers, listeners, and followers. Just like advertisers work tirelessly to cater a company's image and message to appeal to their target audiences, so do media outlets, and so do media personalities. They may have some true convictions, yes. Then again, maybe they don't. Glenn Beck knows what you want to hear. Rush Limbaugh knows what you want to hear. Jon Stewart knows what you want to hear. They're all skilled, talented communicators with skilled, talented teams around them who know exactly how to pluck the right strings of their audience (us).

For example, when someone says that the White House is waging an all-out war on religion, that's not an accurate statement by any standard of truth. It's rhetoric being used very intentionally to manipulate people. We don't like when something we love has come under attack--and so we respond and rally around anyone willing to stand up for us (insert news station/website/personality). If our government was waging an "all-out war" on religion, we would know. It looks a lot like people dying or going to prison.

Don't underestimate the power of language--it can bring life to people, it can shine light into dark places, and it can let someone play us like a fiddle.

We're all recipients of that life and light at some point. We're all susceptible to being played, as well.

Additionally, even if we think a news report is well-researched and fairly presented, the fact is this: the media decides what is news and what is not, and therefore is biased. This is why, all of a sudden, tons of people suddenly care about children being abducted in Africa--as if it hasn't been going on for decades. This is why people suddenly think a new Benghazi investigation is the most important political issue right now. It's not that these issues aren't important, but they reveal the sway that media and politicians have over what we get worked up about.

Social Media

For me, the saddest part of the way we deal with politics and difficult issues is what we're doing to each other. I have a friend who, last week, said it better than I can:

It breaks my heart to hear the way people talk about controversial topics in our culture: no regard for the humanity of anyone involved.

We've prioritized our stances, views, even our convictions over the people in our lives. I'll thank social media for this one. We post links to articles that represent one side of a divisive, controversial, or difficult issue and preface them only by saying, "THIS." or "YES."

We post statuses or tweets that say things like, "I don't know how anybody could ever <fill in the blank>" or "Wake up, people--<condescendingly insert some "truth" that the rest of us are too stupid to know but you probably heard it from Fox News or MSNBC>."

We post things that blast Republicans. As if we don't have Republican friends and family reading.

We post things that blast Democrats. As if we don't have Democratic friends and family reading.

We post things that blast gay people. As if we don't have gay friends and family reading.

We post things that blast Christians. As if we don't have Christian friends and family reading.

We post things that blast atheists. As if we don't have atheist friends and family reading.

We post things that blast poor people. As if we don't have poor friends and family reading.

We post things that blast wealthy. As if we don't have wealthy friends and family reading.

As if there isn't blood and flesh and heart and spirit on the other side of the screen reading our words.

As if making a point or being right is more important than finding ways to pull our friends and family closer together.

As if our hastily typed 140 characters on Twitter or our thoughtless rants on Facebook are the most tactful ways we could express our thoughts.

I blame social media because (generally speaking) I don't see the same blunt, I-don't-care-how-this-comes-off approach people take online when I'm with them in person. When we see someone's face, when we look into their eyes, when we're able to physically witness the pain we would cause them with our words, we're suddenly much more careful with what we say.

And that's a good thing.


Forgive me for believing that we can do better. We can find better ways to believe what we believe, to follow our convictions, to express ourselves, and to disagree about all of it.

Can we start by acknowledging that we're all probably at least a little right, and a little wrong? That from time to time, we all get sucked into the current of what our politicians or media want us to get sucked into?

Can we start by committing to care more about each other than being right? By recognizing that our words have a powerful impact on each other and that requires we treat them with the gravity and responsibility they demand?

Can we let love move us, guide us, and dictate what we say and what we care about?

Maybe the current is already too strong to turn back. Maybe we don't change the world with this approach. But I know I would love to see my little world of a handful people show each other that we don't have to play along.

Would you join me?