Regardless of who is elected President tomorrow, one thing is certain: the divisions in the United States will be stronger than ever. Our nation is fragmented and increasingly self-segregating. We’re driven toward and seek out like-minded people. We have less tolerance for people with differing values and beliefs. We talk about others’ positions as if they’re inherently wrong, not that they have different opinions that are worthy of understanding.
Our elected representatives reflect this division. Not so long ago they would make fiery partisan speeches yet, outside of the spotlight, work with their adversaries to get things done. Many in Congress had respectful and warm personal relationships with their political opponents. This seems to have changed. Fewer of our representatives are willing to collaborate with people of different parties. The animosity once reserved for speeches has become personal. Little work of consequence gets accomplished because people with different values and ideas won’t work together.
How do we turn things around? On a grand scale, it can seem like an unsolvable problem. But I’ve come up with a simple system that can get results immediately. It’s a thought experiment I call the “1-for-1 Rule” and it goes like this: every time a politician says one negative thing about a political opponent or policy, he or she must say one appreciative or constructive thing about that same person or policy. Imagine how the 1-for-1 Rule could have changed George H. W. Bush’s characterization of Al Gore as “Ozone Man” in 1992 because of his climate change advocacy. Instead of this:
“Ozone Man, Ozone. He’s crazy, way out, far out, man.”
It might sound like this:
“Personally I think he’s crazy, but I respect that he is passionate about his cause.”
Would any politician ever do this? Never! Of course not! But imagine what would happen if we held politicians – and ourselves – to this standard. It’s unlikely we would hear phrases like “basket of deplorables,” and “Crooked Hillary.” What positive or constructive thing could you say after saying that?
Our words matter. If there is such a thing as “American exceptionalism,” I think it lies in our ability to work together to transform the whole of our nation in spite of our individual differences. We’ve done it before and we can do it again. We need to hold ourselves and our elected officials to a higher standard. The 1-for-1 Rule is a place to start. If you think it doesn’t matter, try it out with your kids or when talking about the “loudmouth” after the meeting. It’s hard to make people one-dimensional when you’ve got to see the positive in them too.