I just heard the news about the NRA press conference and how offended many people are by it. This is just after last night’s news about Speaker Boehner’s “Plan B” to fix the deficit being withdrawn because it fell on deaf ears. Now, with the country perched on the edge of the “fiscal cliff” and people yelling at the victims of tragedy, it occurs to me that we need to get beyond this melarchy and start dealing with each other, but I think we have forgotten how to do so. Public discourse has been so rancorous for so long and people listen to the media that tells them what they already believe, no matter how insane or inane that we need a reminder on how to do this.
So, here’s how to have a discussion:
1) Start by taking responsibility for your part in creating the problem. Be honest.
2) Next, compliment the opposition on something they do right.
3) Affirm what you can agree about.
4) Get that part in writing.
5) Start working on what you can’t agree upon.
It might look like this:
1) We, the citizens of Newtown admit that we play violent video games, that we didn’t figure out how to identify or cope with the mentally ill in our community and we let somebody this mentally ill learn to fire a gun and get possession of one.
We, the NRA create a gun culture that promotes violence, hatred of those who disagree with us, and a macho culture that says more bullets faster and more deadly is better.
2) We at the NRA have to admit that most people in Newtown are as sane as the day is long. Even those who play video games don’t often shoot scores of children. and that nobody in America really deals well with the mentally ill.
We who live in Newtown admit that people have, according to our Constitution, the right to have guns. We dislike how some people use them, and how much damage they have done in this situation — God, we hate that — but you have the right to have them.
3) We agree that people have the right to have guns, but we think this is a tragedy beyond proportions we’re willing to handle. We agree that we, as citizens, live in a culture of violence promoted in a variety of ways — often to sell things. We agree that we don’t take care of the mentally ill in our society and don’t care for our neighbors very well.
4) Therefore, we agree to not promote violence. We agree that people can have guns but not more than they need for hunting or protecting themselves. Guns cannot fire more than one shot at a time automatically. We agree to fund mental health facilities and to do what we can, as good citizens, to care for our neighbors.
5) There are “purists” who think that any gun is a good gun. There are purists who think that video games are part of the right of free speech. There are people who won’t spend any money on their citizens. We don’t know what to do with that, but those people won;t come to the table and discuss this.
Can you imagine this? Right now, me neither. Maybe someday.
On the fiscal cliff, it might look like this:
1) We, the Republicans, admit that we created the deficit with a war that no one can really defend. We let it go on for years and it drained all our money and caused irreparable harm to the people and economy of America.
We, the Democrats, admit that we were involved with housing scandals that added to the country’s debt and have left people homeless. In addition, some of the people we want to give money to don’t deserve it.
2) We admire the Republicans for their stubbornness. We admire the democrats for their caring.
3) We agree that something has to be done about the debt. We agree that some people have waaaayyy too much and some people have waaayyy too little. We agree that some people who receive money from the government don’t deserve it, but most who do, need it. We agree that the war in Iraq was a dumb idea and we shouldn’t do that again. We agree that a totally free market regarding people’s basic needs — like housing — hasn’t worked. We agree that some people got very rich off of the war. We think that those people who have way too much and especially those who made a lot of money by promoting the war should pay extra into the general fund. We agree that people who made lots of money ripping people off re: housing should either go to jail, or give extra money to the general fund, so that people can get their houses back and the debt can go down. We agree that nobody should expect everybody to pay for more than they need.
4) Therefore, we agree to tax the people who can afford it, who have ripped off others, or convinced us to do things that were in their best interests, not the general public’s. We agree to give money to people who need it. We agree to be wise about people we do give money to. We agree to not go to war unless it can actually be justified through proven facts from more than one source. We will think carefully before we go to war again.
5) There’s a culture of people out there who love war, violence, taking other people’s land and resources. There are people out there who want things that aren’t theirs. There are people out there who want to be greedy. We think they shouldn’t be, but we don’t know how to convince them otherwise.
Again, can you imagine this? Well, clearly I can imagine it. And if I can, they can. Let’s train people to do this. Let’s expect them to do this. Let’s vote for people who do this.