Like thousands of others, you may have seen the video of high school baseball pitcher Ty Koen striking out the final batter to put his team into the Minnesota state championship last summer.
Instead of immediately celebrating with all his teammates who rushed the field, Ty ran to console and hug the batter he had just struck out. The batter was Jack Kocon, a childhood friend. Ty respond with compassion, and, as NBC News phrased it, “it was the best play of the game.”
In the nation’s current political and cultural climate, I suggest we do something similar.
Those of us worried, disgusted or enraged by today’s nasty, accusatory, fact-depleted and bitter national political climate could learn from Ty. He chose the higher good, and we can, too. Let’s avoid the eye-for-an-eye, insult-for-an-insult mindset.
Whether we are Democrats or Republicans, white or people of color, Christian, Muslim, atheist or something else — we can best further our beliefs and our cause by acting in ways that avoid name calling, insults or disrespecting people we disagree with. We can uphold our personal values and not sink to the lowest common denominator. Do any of us want to adopt and promote the tactics of those we see as unworthy role models of political discourse and national culture?
Can we stop throwing stones at the beliefs of others and focus on stating our own beliefs as truthfully as we can — while listening to the other side?
Refusing to listen doesn’t work. Categorizing anyone into a camp that we see as ill-informed, “less than me” or eternally wrong doesn’t work. These reactions cement us into a state of bitterness, anger and condemnation. Can we view compromise not as a weakness or as flip-flopping but as a path to agreement? Can we view listening as important as talking?
Parsing the truth because we think the other side does will keep us separated from each other. More important, parsing the truth will keep us separated from the truth.
I have a Facebook friend I haven’t seen since high school. He’s on the other side of the presidential debate from me. When I posted something that I thought advanced my political beliefs, he responded. He did so in a productive way. He asked what all the fuss was about. He did not defend his political beliefs. He did not denigrate my beliefs. He did not change his beliefs based on my posting. He did respond in a way that encouraged dialogue, a conversation, a verbal stroll to learn more from each other.
That’s the way out.
Years ago, a counselor taught my wife and me a conflict resolution process. Person A starts talking. Person B must only listen. No interruptions. No refutations. Questions only for clarity. Person A talks as long as she needs to. When Person A determines she’s done, Person B still cannot state his case. First, Person B must summarize what Person A said in such a way that the Person A accepts Person B’s summary and knows she has been heard and understood. Only then can Person B state his opinion. And so, the conversation continues with Person B now granted the unlimited talking time and Person A devoted to listening.
At the end of that baseball game, Ty Koen eventually did join his team’s celebration. But Ty put first things first. Relationship before conquest. Humanity before team spirit. What unites us before what separates us.
Let’s objectively listen to all sides. Let’s not react but respond with basic human decency, kindness, respect, open-mindedness and truth. Think: Will our next action be a step toward resolution, or a step toward inflammation?
Let’s face it: It can feel exciting and satisfying to divide and reject the thoughts and opinions of the other side. It just won’t solve our problems.