You see, my mother — the only person I’ve known personally that might approach sainthood status –repeatedly advised, “if you don’t have something nice to say, better to say nothing at all.”
I’ll wager I’m not the only one that grew up hearing that advice (I’d even be willing to bet that at least a handful who occupy a seat in Washington, D.C. by virtue of a promise to serve grew up hearing similar advice.)
At the risk of being accused of too simplistic a perspective — imagine what Sunday news shows might sound like were that advice to be followed.
Silly, I know. But what if we were to take one small step; and, henceforth, refuse to label human beings? What if we just stopped — cold turkey? No more one or two word monikers; no more color codes or short clever phrases designed to segment, categorize and define.
How might dialogue and discourse change if we were unable to resort to short quips intended to communicate an entire philosophical stance, perspective, belief system and world view?
And let’s be honest for a moment; too often the intent when labeling ensues is to discount, belittle or shut down an opposing view. I can hear a chorus of moms’ voices now — “aren’t we better than this?”
What if we refused to take the easy cheap-shot?
What if, instead of posing and posturing designed to secure the last word, every interaction was intended to build a bridge to the next?
We might rediscover the rare arts of communication and collaboration.
We might learn that common interests and shared aspirations inspire creative genius and the pursuit of solutions.
Not victories. Solutions.
The challenges of communicating are abundant, whether the venue is Washington, D.C., an office on Monday morning, or the family room this evening. But even on the playgrounds of our childhood, name-calling and obfuscation of responsibility rarely resulted in solutions.
Some say we are too fractured, our goals and values too diverse. Matters of principle are punctuated with metaphors for war.
For one, I choose to believe the shared dreams of a community are big enough to bridge differences. Before you write this off as naive, spend a few moments looking deep into the eyes of a child.
Of course, I could be wrong; but what if we took mom’s advice for a season? What if, in place of a commitment to win one debate, the goal was on-going dialogue?
What if our commitment was to listen intently, determined to understand the aspirations we share.
The world will never run low on individuals with the ability to see all that is wrong, and eloquently articulate our most pressing problems. Perhaps we can’t do much about D.C. today; but we can determine that our conversations will be different, that we will look for the good, build dialogue around the positive, and relentlessly pursue the solutions.