Column: We Can Do Better

By Icy Frantz

don’t know about you but I am glad that election day is behind us. The lawn signs have been taken down on the most part and the robo calls have ceased. Actually, I am proud of all of those men and women, Republicans and Democrats who threw their names in the proverbial ring and I am glad that there are candidates who care enough about our schools, our towns, our states and our nation. It takes courage to stand up for what we believe and energy and passion to take positive action. I am thankful for the process and for the occasion for good clean debate. We live in an outstanding country worthy of debate, and our health and progress are dependent on this.

Somewhere along the way we lost our ability to debate and disagree respectfully both at the local and the national level. We blame the other party for our problems and we spend critical energy trying to catch the other side doing something wrong, rather than spending that energy on doing something right and fixing the many problems that ail us. We blame other’s bad behavior for our own and call each other names. This negative, sometimes rude and sometimes mean attitude is more than exhausting, it makes me very sad.

The mother in me wants to say:

“I don’t like your tone. Play nice. Take turns. Two wrongs don’t make a right. And for heaven’s sake, put down the toilet seat.” I simply know we can all do better.

There is so much in this country that unifies us. Truly, nothing is more inspiring than when we come together, putting our differences aside to support a community that is hurting or to combat a deadly disease. And we do it all the time. Wasn’t it great to see the five former U.S. Presidents gathered in Texas to raise money for hurricane victims and even greater to witness Obama and George W. snickering together. And in our community, I was equally inspired at the Breast Cancer Association lunch when over 1,000 men and women came together to cheer on women in recovery and to raise much needed money to aid in the research and to find a cure for breast cancer. We all checked our politics at the door.

I miss watching our boys play high school sports. I loved the games. I loved the camaraderie. I loved the good clean competition. So occasionally, I go and enjoy friends’ children playing high school sports. That was the case last spring when I went to a lacrosse game between two teams on which our twins had played. Before the game began, the teams had their pictures taken together. On the sidelines, we were a little confused, but we thought it was a nice gesture and then we learned the reason why.

The teams were supporting a boy who was battling cancer. The boy had played on one of the teams, then changed schools. He was to play on the other team until he received the cancer diagnosis. After the picture, the rival teams took to the field. One team won. Victory is nice but what stood out to all of us on the sidelines was how the two teams stood in unity to support their teammate. They had common ground and they put rivalry aside to recognize something far more important.

We can’t always find unity. Sometimes we will stand on very different platforms. We will have very opposing solutions to difficult problems. Our beliefs and values will be unalike. Yet we need to learn to respect one another, differences and all.

I recently read a speech given by William MacMullen, Headmaster of the Taft School. In it, he speaks to the troubles we have today engaging in face-to-face conversations because of the excessive use of technology that is part of today’s culture and the even more difficult ability we have engaging in civil disagreements.

He cited an article written by Bret Stephens for the New York Times, “The Dying Art of Disagreement.” (worth googling and reading). Stephens says that “Disagreement is a vital ingredient of any decent society” and that sadly today “we judge each other morally depending on where we stand politically.” And it is his belief that we are more polarized at present than in any other time in history. This makes it very trying to debate fairly and to learn to compromise. We end up in very nasty and undignified disagreements.

I know a little about undignified disagreements. From time to time, I have them. Stuck in my own inability to see the worth of a different perspective and unable to loosen my hold on the need to be right, occasionally I find myself in awkward and unproductive exchanges, sometimes over small things. I remember one from awhile back when I was dating my now husband. We were making lunch. We had a salad and I was dressing it sparingly.

“You need to put a lot more dressing on. Everyone likes their lettuce leaves drenched in dressing,” he said.

Hmmm. Well, I disagreed. I thought his point of view was naïve. Surely it meant he knew nothing about nutrition and cooking, like I did. How could he question the way I was preparing the salad? How could he be so ill-advised and uneducated (what were they teaching him at Princeton and Tuck)? How could he look at lettuce as a mere conduit for dressing, the way we might look at corn on the cob as a conduit for butter?

And therein lies some of the problem. I made a judgment about him based on his opinion about salad dressing.

Perhaps, the big salad dressing debate can help us understand why it is so difficult to disagree respectfully over the bigger things in life, when even very small things get our dander up.

Lately, I have been very disappointed by some of the political attacks I have seen on social media. I know there is great frustration and often these political rants are knee jerk reactions. A study done by Rantic states that 94% of Republicans, 92% of Democrats, and 85% of Independents have never been swayed by a political post confirming that if we want to change viewpoints, we need to find a better way; hopefully a way that doesn’t continue to damage to friendships.

There is hope, examples to follow. A few weeks ago, we attended the wedding of two remarkable young people. The wedding was absolute perfection. Under a tent on the coast of Connecticut, the guests all came together to bear witness to the sacred ceremony of a beautiful Democratic State Rep. and a charming Republican State Senator. Any divide seemed to evaporate in the higher emotion that is love. The state was in the middle of budget negotiations and some of the legislators from both sides were dining and dancing side-by-side. It gave us a renewed sense of hope and I kept thinking that just maybe negotiations would be more civil and productive on the dance floor rather than at the Capital.

Historically, we have been moved by some who have stood up to the status quo. These people brought about real change. They did so not by spitting on professors or posting derogatory political statements on social media. They did it through courage and positive action. We all get angry and fearful. It is easy to let a disagreement get heated. It is much harder to listen to what others have to say- really listen and consider.

Individuals with opposing viewpoints stretch our own understanding if we let them. In Stephen’s article, he lists the following: Mandela, Rosa Parks, Galileo and Darwin among others as examples of those who disagreed with dignity and grace. Their opinions may have felt new and they may have even made the majority feel uncomfortable but ultimately, they made our world better. Maybe we can learn from them.

We need people to stick up for their beliefs. We need people to disagree. We need good debate. It will propel us forward as a nation.

Let’s applaud the good politicians: male, female, Republicans, Democrats and Independents. Don’t let the labels of a political party blind us. We may disagree but there are far more things that unify us than divide us.

With election day behind us, we were fortunate to celebrate Veterans Day, and I feel the incredible and inspiring unity here in town as we collectively thank the men and women who protect us and our freedom. Our country is worth defending on the battlefields and in the halls of our government houses, and we can defend with courage, honor, and respect; One Nation under God, indivisible with Liberty and justice for all.