Across the Aisle

“E pluribus unum” or, “out of the many, one”.  This is not only the motto for our country but a prescription for our current political woes.  Many Democrats, and some others, were shocked by the results of the November election, and it has been—at least for me—a great temptation to lash out at those on the opposite side.

To do this would not be only a lapse of neighborly civility, but would foster the very divisiveness that led to the electoral upheaval, and make it much, much worse.  In short, if we do not make it our sincere pledge to hear our opponents’ voices, to make their views welcome and respected, then we exacerbate the societal divisions that left them feeling ignored and left out.

Further, a divided and unstable United States is a boon to our enemies abroad. This was made abundantly clear when it was discovered that Russia had promoted Twitter feeds on both sides of the NFL debate:  #boycottNFL and #takeaknee.  American (and European) discord takes our attention off of what the Russians and others are really doing.

We can do better.  We must do better, for practical reasons as well as ideological concerns.  Here’s why:

  • Democrats are in the governing minority, so they ALONE can neither move legislation forward nor stop unwanted laws or nominations from happening. For ANY of our goals to be reached, we need bipartisan votes. The more we demonize the other side, the less chance there is for that crossover to happen—and everything we want depends on that.
  • Many who voted Republican may be having second thoughts. Indeed, the president’s approval rating is historically low.  Let us make it feel safe for those neighbors and friends to admit their disappointment.
  • It’s good karma.

But how can we do this while still fighting for what we believe in?  As Evelyn Beatrice Hall, (English author) wrote in 1906: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Here are a few concrete suggestions for everyday civility (without giving up your soul):

  • Ask open ended questions about the long view. For example, “How do you feel about how divided things are in the US today?  How do you think we might go about repairing the divisive environment?”
  • Look for areas of mutual interest and agree on something. For example, talk about local air or water pollution, the difficulty getting anything done in Congress, or the need to improve national infrastructure (bridges, roads, etc.)
  • Listen, actively. Pay close attention to what is being said. Restate what you heard to be sure you have it right.  Probe (calmly) into areas of interest – based on what the person actually said – not just what’s on your agenda.

In other words, listen respectfully, disagree respectfully, and (if nothing else) agree to disagree.  If we lose our common identity as Americans, we’ve lost much more than an election.

Opinion blog posts represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Indivisible Groton Area or its individual members. IN invites input and opinion from among the diversity of its membership.

Deborah Burton
Deborah Burton, a longtime resident of Groton (MA), is an Associate Professor of Music at Boston University, and has also taught at the University of Rome, Harvard University, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Florida International University, Fordham University and Adrian College (MI). Formerly a concert pianist, her current research concerns opera analysis, counterpoint, and the history of music theory, emphasizing Italian sources.

Professor Burton has written a monograph entitled Recondite Harmony: Essays on Puccini’s Operas (Pendragon, 2012). She has recently been a guest lecturer at the University of Rome-Tor Vergata, at the Metropolitan Opera Young Artists Program, and at the Hartt School of Music. Dr. Burton collaborated with Gregory Harwood to write an annotated translation of Francesco Galeazzi’s 1796 music treatise entitled The Theoretical-Practical Elements of Music (University of Illinois Press, 2012). Co-editor of and contributor to Tosca’s Prism: Three Moments of Western Cultural History (Northeastern University Press, 2004), she has also published articles in the journals Music Theory and Analysis, Theoria, Studi Musicali, Nuova Rivista Musicale Italiana, Opera Quarterly, Rivista di Analisi e Teoria Musicale, as well as authoring many program notes.

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