We Need a Conversational Shift
by Mark Goodkin
The Present ParadigmTune to any political radio show in the morning, or any cable news show at night, and you’ll notice a trend. People are angry. They shout, point, scribble things on white boards and feature other angry people to argue with. The entire point of these programs seems to be making viewers and listeners as angry as the hosts. You don’t even need to turn on the radio or television to find angered political speech. Liberal and conservative blogs proliferate. You'll also hear conversations at work, at church, or at bowling night that have the same temperament and tone as the cable news hosts. This type of fear and anger is like quicksand, sucking people down into a dark paradigm where they are unable to hear each other's opinion with openness and understanding. This is a dangerous paradigm which leads to stagnation and suffering, preventing any measure of compromise or resolution. Witness the recent US government budget morass. Politicians from both sides of the aisle fought over spending measures that made up less than 3% of the budget to the point where the Federal government was almost forced to shut down due to lack of funds. Such a default would have negatively impacted millions of people who rely on government funding. In this situation, a compromise was reached at the last hour, but what about the next time that the budget comes up for a vote? As long as the prevailing paradigm remains the same, we will all suffer from the political fallout.
A New ParadigmClearly, it is time to establish a new paradigm of communication. The rancor that has now infected our society will only further entrench differences and stereotypes, thus creating a close-minded perception of society, unless we commit to change. A new paradigm of communication does not mean that we have to agree with each other, but what it does mean is that we develop greater respect for each other and understand that the key to solving our pressing problems resides in the participation of both sides in the conversation, not one side to the exclusion of the other. Each side has strengths and weaknesses, but when one side dominates power for too long, its strengths will often times become exemplified, but so will its weaknesses, and its weaknesses tend to include a certain shortsightedness as to some of the valid concerns from the other side, and a full understanding is necessary for well-rounded solutions. Another weakness is a tendency for the side in power to corrupt that power. Each side acts as a check to the other side. In addition, the situation of one party monopolizing power is unsustainable, since it disenfranchises a large segment of the population. Eventually, the tables flip and the other side seizes power for a time. Our political system works best when both sides engage in constructive political discourse and are able to reach a consensus that truly benefits the nation and its people without disregarding large sections of the population. Unfortunately, this is not how our political system is operating.
Conversational ShiftI’d like to introduce two terms: First, The Conversational Shift defines a leap from the present paradigm of polarized communication to a new, more positive paradigm. This shift serves as a bridge for overcoming polarized politics and will take society several years to achieve, but the long term benefits are immeasurable. Second, a conversational shift denotes an incremental, positive change that occurs in a discussion between those with divergent points of view, and more than one shift can occur in an exchange. It’s through the baby steps of many conversational shifts over many discussions that will ultimately lead to The Conversational Shift. Each time a conversational shift is made, there's a new opportunity for developing greater understanding, cooperation, synergy, and self-healing. There are a number of techniques which will help enhance communication, and one of the most important is understanding and acknowledging the concerns of the other side, something often ignored when engaged in polarized discussion. This technique, along with others, will be explored in further articles. What kind of future do we want? I believe most of us envision a future with greater peace and harmony, cooperation, synergy, prosperity, freedom and good will. The present paradigm of polarized communication will never bring forth or sustain this vision. It will only continue to breed distrust, disenfranchisement and ignorance.
As Global Patriots, we can change the world with a Conversational Shift!