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By Michael Angier

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Political Viewpoints

The 2004 election here in the U.S. is heading down the home stretch. The rhetoric is ratcheting up, the volume is increasing, and we're all looking for it to being over.

Nonetheless, I'm fascinated by politics. Not just as a game, but because I believe it really does have a significant impact on our lives and our history.

What would have happened if John Breckinridge had been elected president in 1860 instead of Abraham Lincoln? We don't know, of course, but it would be fair to assume that things would have been different.

We're often advised not to bring up politics or religion in social or workplace conversations. The fear is that we'll alienate others or cause friction and discomfort.

What we need to do is learn to discuss politics—or any other sensitive subject for that matter—in ways that do not DIVIDE but rather increase the collective understanding.

I don't think we should avoid these types of discussions. I think we should embrace them. I love what Lady Bird Johnson said, "The sound of freedom is the clash of ideas."

All that's required is that we listen to what others have to say, value and consider their viewpoint and respectfully offer our own ideas without condemning or denigrating the people we're speaking with.

There's nothing wrong with having strong convictions. But we all need to be tolerant and respectful of those who have different ones.

It's easier said than done, I agree. But if we're really intent on being a civilized society, we need to increase our tolerance and work diligently to get along with other people.

I have a number of close friends who are politically opposed to many of my own beliefs. But I've learned a lot by listening to what they have to say and why they think the way they do. I expect they've learned from mine. But this can only happen if we listen and respect one another and 

No political party or religion is all right or all wrong. No one has the corner on the truth. And no one is served by demonizing any particular group.

Democracy is sometimes messy. But as bitterly divided as our country seems to be, we're not about to go to war to resolve our differences as we did in 1861. We really ARE making progress.

We can reduce divisiveness, expand our knowledge and create more elegant solutions if we slow down, look for common ground, speak responsibly and respect others' points of view.

And it starts with us.


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Last Updated 10/20/2004