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November 5, 2015

Brickbats and Soundbites

Patricia A. Kelly

A dreadful form of “news,” these twisted, context-free headlines and posts, are major obstacles to political dialogue. Can you believe it?


Most of us on both sides of the aisle want the same end. We want people unable to help themselves to get help. We want all children to have access to quality education and opportunity. We want all people to be able to get healthcare, good food and the opportunity to live long, healthy lives. We want people of all colors and ethnicities to be treated fairly. We rarely want an illegal immigrant we know personally to be deported. We even want business to operate by and under fair regulations.


This truth is never acknowledged in the media. Respect for the “other side” is totally lost among the distortions.


Instead of factual news, we have repeated, sensational coverage of remarks pulled out of context, complete with snarky photos, intended to convince us that the subject of the stories is a bad person, purposely putting our country, and even our lives, in danger.


On social media, groups named such things as “Why I hate Republicans,” “Ben Carson the Idiot,” along with similarly named anti-liberal postings, abound. People take a quick look at the headline of the post and immediately, ignorantly, jump in, adding to the landslide of mud without even looking for facts.


There’s no effort to find out the truth, especially if it comes from the other side. Really, how can you tell why Hillary was laughing during the Benghazi hearings? Was she coughing, was she nervous, or did she not care that people died in the annex? How can you seriously react to assertions that Ben Carson hates Muslims, or homosexuals, when all you see are three words, taken out of context?


There’s a social “rule” against talking politics with friends, undoubtedly because these behaviors carry on into private conversations as well. If you don’t differentiate between your opinion and the facts you claim to be sharing, that would certainly turn what might have been a civil conversation into an argument.


If you call Ben Carson, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton names, or ascribe motives to them that are your imagination, what chance do you have that others will consider your views?


By the time you finish your diatribe, they’re so angry they wouldn’t vote your way if you were Pope Francis.


So, do we permanently “de-friend” politics and religion, or give consideration to how we might work together?


After all, nothing will work, in government, business, or even personal life without some negotiation and collaboration skills. One of the big, obvious problems resulting from deficiencies in communication is the ideological and procedural split, hopefully beginning to mend, in the Republican Party.


First, let’s get that we all look at the world through personal filters. Even though we may have forgotten how we created these filters, our past experiences have shaped our views. When we hear something, we react instinctively based on views we already have. Keeping that in mind could make it easier for us to even listen to something different.


Second, there’s the issue of respect for others. We want it ourselves. Why wouldn’t they? Name calling, spreading stories without the facts, and falsely attributing motives don’t contribute to dialogue. All they do is make the listener so angry he wouldn’t move to your side if you were Pope Francis.


Last, and extremely inflammatory, is the common habit of confusing opinion with fact. It happens all the time, and is the most annoying thing possible. A friend of mine recently told me that George Washington wrote that farms would be more profitable with paid workers rather than slaves, mentioning that the owner is required to care for his slaves from birth to death. She then added that Washington didn’t care about the well-being of his workers.


After my head stopped exploding, I pointed out, not very nicely, that her assertion that Washington didn’t care about his workers was something she made up, not something she found in his writings. Her answer was that, in her view, there was no other conclusion one could draw.




We do have to work together, Congress included, to solve the problems facing our society today. Learning how to actually talk with one another might be a start.


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