A Meditation Before Engaging In Political Discussions



Christopher Ebbe, Ph.D.    6-19


The increasing political polarization in the U.S. over the last twenty years has made it even more important for our democracy that citizens be able to respectfully and usefully engage in political discussions.  In order for such discussions to be civil and useful, certain attitudes and assumptions are necessary.  (These are also useful for discussion of other sensitive topics as well, such as religion and relationships.)  These attitudes and assumptions, as I understand them, are presented here as a daily meditation, perhaps to be repeated every morning or at least before starting such discussions.  Doing this will set the tone for how you approach such issues and how you integrate the latest political news into your understanding.  (It is most effective if you read the meditation out loud to yourself.  You are the “I” in the statements below.)  These attitudes lead in the direction of respect and courtesy for all participants and in the direction of cooperation and compromise as tools for achieving the best democratic decisions.  The principles underlying this meditation can work well if implemented sincerely and with persistence, and they have worked well for me in both my private life and in my 40-year career as a psychologist and therapist.


(read out loud to yourself)
I believe in democracy as the best form of government, and as part of this belief, I am willing for the voices of all citizens to be heard in a respectful way, including those with whom I disagree.


In our democracy, we see each person as a basic equal with others, and we expect each citizen to take on appropriate responsibility for the quality of government.  I will view everyone as basic equals, and I acknowledge value in everyone just for being human.  I will strive to see the good in everyone and not just the bad.  Since we are all basic equals, I acknowledge that I should not get greater advantages from government than those received by any other citizen.  I will always work toward outcomes that benefit all involved and do not benefit only myself or those like me.


In order to be in a state of mind that supports working together cooperatively, I admit that I (and others) have only opinions and not the truth.  I will strive to find the truth as best I can, regardless of the claims of authorities or my political party.  I will seek to know my “blind spots” and to be mindful of how I might “doctor” or “spin” the truth to be as I want it to be.


I acknowledge that lying is immoral and that morality requires that we do not lie to others or deceive them (with lying being defined as asserting as true something that we know or could easily know to be false, misleading, or of uncertain truth).  Therefore, I will publically label my opinions as opinions and say to what degree I am certain about their accuracy.  I will not make statements as if they were truth when I know that they are only my opinion.


To promote effective working together, I will treat others with respect, with courtesy, and fairly.  Treating others with respect and courtesy does not mean that I agree with them or that I am letting them “win.”


I acknowledge that in both personal and policy interactions, “good” relationships are those in which both parties feel comfortable and safe as a result of understanding each other and feeling treated appropriately by the other person, and in which the interaction enhances the welfare of both parties.


In order to keep my balance emotionally, I will think of those who may disagree with me as fully human, basic equals rather than as enemies.  I will carefully examine the information I get from others (particularly the media and politicians), since most of this information is trying to influence me, often with falsehoods.


When I think of “the American people,” I will think of people throughout our country, with their various cultural and regional differences as all deserving my respect and consideration, and I will not misrepresent the “American people” by asserting that they all agree with me.  All Americans (and all people around the globe), no matter their political or religious persuasions, try to find economic comfort and security, find gratifying relationships, have good family relations, raise children to be good people, and help their fellow men and women when needed, even if they have chosen different methods of achieving these goals. A few individuals in every group may do evil things, but no group of humans is evil, and all deserve respect and understanding.


I want to contribute to the best possible decisions of our citizens through government, and to this end I pledge to encourage cooperation and compromise in Congress and with the President rather than fighting to “win” or for domination, since winning means putting down, humiliating, and disadvantaging others (which will lead to never ending conflict).  In a harmonious democracy, no one group should force everyone else to believe and live in a certain way.


In order to accept cooperating instead of fighting, I affirm that I believe that I can get more out of life in the long run by adhering to the truth and working together with others as equals, rather than trying at every turn to take advantage of others so that I can benefit more or have things my way.  This requires viewing others as basic equals, with the same rights as I have to seek and obtain good things in life.

I admit that almost all policy decisions give advantage to some and disadvantage to others, no matter how hard we try to benefit all, so when I present my preferences, I will acknowledge how they would disadvantage certain others and present why my preference would be the best option even though it would disadvantage certain others.


I recognize that liberals and conservatives in our society generally have different priorities and values (e.g., valuing change versus valuing tradition), and I acknowledge that these are all human value possibilities that by themselves are not evil or destructive.  We need both sets of values in order to have a complete society.


Since I believe in equality and compromise, I will change my focus in political and religious discussions from trying to change or convince the other person to trying to understand that person’s unique viewpoint.  The views of each of us stem from our beliefs and life experiences, and each of us has somewhat different life experiences.


Instead of automatically being critical of those I disagree with, I will view them as doing the best that they can.  I will enter every discussion thinking that I may learn something interesting and perhaps valuable from others.  I will ask more questions than I make statements.


In discussions, I will patiently spend sufficient time to learn about the other person so as to see how his or her life experience has led to his or her conclusions and beliefs.  I will share about myself so the other person can understand why I have my particular beliefs and conclusions.


If the other person is challenging or critical, I will try not to feel attacked or ashamed, since my beliefs and views do make sense in terms of my own background and experience.  I will try not to be defensive, since I know that we each have only our own opinions.


I will stick to “I” statements, and I will avoid “you” statements that tell the other person what she believes and why it is wrong.  I will present my beliefs and views as beliefs and views rather than as truth, and I will try to explain but not to justify them.


If the discussion atmosphere becomes too hot, I will suggest taking a break.  I will not try to “win” by speaking loudly or forcefully but will struggle to try to understand my own views well enough to explain them so that the other person can understand me.


I will avoid using exaggerated language (“oppression,” “fantastic,” “deplorables,” “greatest”) and “assuming” language (“everyone knows that…,” “any sane person would know that…”), since such language will destroy rational discussion.


If the other person says something useful, I will point that out.  In closing, I will thank the other person for sharing and trying to help me understand him or her, and if I have learned something worthwhile, I will say so.


(For more on these issues and values, see my essays “The Solution To All Human Interactional Problems” and “Bridging Societal Differences” on www.livewiselydeeply.com.)

Haidt, Jonathan (2012).  The Righteous Mind:  Why People Are Divided Over Politics and Religion.  Vintage Books, New York.