Exploring the Rules of Engagement for Healthier Political Discourse, Third Query.
I’m still working on how to balance it all. Every day I wake up and before long I feel tense, asking myself, “What can I do today to make a positive difference to our country? How can I make my voice, calling for collaboration and connection, heard?” It’s a struggle to extricate myself from that, and be present to work, family, chores, etc.
But I think I’m doing better. Every day I feel an urge to write. I have ordered postcards with the Healing Through Connection photo, title, and URL, to write to Congress. I figure, if I’m going to write to them, they might as well know who I am and what I stand for (which, I hope, this blog makes pretty clear).
I’m never sure how effective it is to send emails via senators’ and representatives’ web pages, does anyone know? Well anyway, it probably can’t hurt, and it makes me feel better that I’m doing something. Today I started with my US representative, writing about Donald Trump’s conflicts of interest and ties to Russia. I then copied, pasted, and edited to send to each of my senators. I noticed that each time I revised, I added a sentence or two that brought my personal perspective on government into clearer relief. It’s not just about policy. It’s about how policy gets negotiated–which is about communication and relationships. Finally, I wrote to Senator John McCain, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The letter is below. Ironically, I forgot to include the link to this blog. But that’s okay, I’ll probably write him again soon.
I’m pretty proud of this letter (email). I think it’s respectful and validating, while also challenging. I tried to imagine Senator McCain actually reading it. I want him to feel seen–to understand that though I am not his constituent or a member of his party, I still appreciate him as a person. We are all in this together, and I want him to feel supported by people ‘on the other side.’ I want to embolden any part of him that wishes to make an emotional appeal to his colleagues. Whenever we see the word ’emotional’ we immediately, subconsciously, also think ‘hysterical.’ They are far from synonymous, and I want to take that stigma away.
Two articles I read this week support my conviction for taking an emotional/limbic approach to political conversations. The first was a detailed piece in The New Yorker that describes the science behind why facts don’t change our minds. Second was an October article in the Harvard Business Review on how to engage and make it safe for people (Trump supporters in particular) to change their minds and positions. It does not specifically reference the Harvard Negotiation Project, but it reminds me in many ways of the book Getting to Yes, written by HNP founders William Ury and Roger Fisher. I plan to write more about principles from this book in the coming weeks. I have listened to it again since the election, and it helps ground me.
I thought about sharing my letter on one of the many secret, liberal groups on Facebook, and/or on my personal page. But somehow it felt more appropriate to share here. I am aware that this makes me vulnerable to public attacks on my politics and positions. With engagement comes risks, so boundaries are in order. My boundaries here are the same as on Facebook:
- No ad hominem.
- Keep your comments respectful and civil.
- Read the entire post before commenting.
- I reserve the right to remove comments that violate the requests above. Commenting on this blog is like coming into my home and talking to me. I would not allow you to fling fecal words in my home, at me or my other guests, and the same principle applies here.
What do you think?
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Dear Senator McCain,
Thank you for your decades of service to our country.
I am a liberal independent from Chicago, a woman, a daughter of immigrants, and a physician.
I remember the 2008 campaign and how you treated Barack Obama with respect and professionalism. I remember how you corrected the woman at a debate when she claimed he was an Arab. You made a deep impression on me that night, for manifesting integrity with unwavering conviction. I see you doing it again now, as we face the profoundly alarming and appalling existential threat of the new administration.
I write today to request that you consider how best to use your influence and credibility, with your longstanding tenure in the military and the Senate, to encourage and empower your colleagues, especially those on the right, to stand up for the conscience of the nation. We need a comprehensive, bi-partisan investigation into Donald Trump’s many conflicts, and especially those with Russia. I know you already support this.
I have no idea what it must be like in your work. But as a primary care physician, I talk to people for a living, trying to help them change their behavior to more closely align with their long term health goals. It takes kindness, persistence, patience, presence, and trust. Simply arguing facts and positions does not work. We need to appeal to people’s emotions–to their deeply held (and perhaps forgotten or buried?) values of integrity, responsibility, accountability, and conscience. We humans are emotional decision-makers, though we think ourselves so rational. Research tells us that much of the time, we simply rationalize. Thus, to change people’s behavior, we need to shed emotional light, with compassion and empathy, on the discrepancies between their actions and their integrity. And we need to make it safe for them to admit to those discrepancies, rather than shame them for it. Only then will they, slowly, make meaningful change.
I imagine that over the years, you have cultivated the relationships with your colleagues that paved the way for the important conversations that must happen now. Please, for all our sakes, engage with your colleagues around your common humanity and shared mission of protecting our democracy, and of showing the world that our government is one of integrity.
Thank you, and best wishes to you and your family.
Catherine Cheng, MD FACP