Making Change in an Election Year
The 2012 elections could be “the most negative in the history of American politics,” according to journalist Joe Hagan. If you have seen the campaign ads and heard the speeches of many people seeking office, you might agree with him.
You can take part in political debates in an election year without buying into this mindset of polarization and attack. You can engage with candidates and with your neighbors in a way that promotes dialogue and raises the issues you can about most deeply.
Candidates running for public office are listening carefully to what voters think in the period before an election. The questions that are asked and the debates that take place during the 2012 campaign can influence what Congress is willing or able to do in the next few years.
In this newsletter, we offer questions that you could ask candidates, as well as suggestions on how to use the questions. An important part of “how” is your approach to questioning the candidates. People sometimes ask questions that seem designed to make candidates look bad, or that seem like a platform for attacking the candidate’s point of view. We encourage you to take a different approach, to listen and learn as well as give your opinion, and to acknowledge and speak to that of God in the candidate in the way you ask your question.
This approach is grounded in our Quaker practice, and anyone can use it. At FCNL, we don’t support or oppose candidates, and we look at a disagreement over government policies as we would any disagreement between people, as a situation to be approached with a listening heart. This is how our lobbyists in Washington approach their work, and this is how we encourage people around the country to engage with elected leaders and candidates for office.
What does this kind of policy discussion look like?
It begins, and stays, at the center. Working from one’s spiritual center has been part of the Quaker tradition for hundreds of years. The process of centering allows an individual’s work to be grounded and provides an opportunity for discernment. Centering includes considering what is central about the issue and why it holds such importance. This understanding grounds the conversation with others about the issue.
It involves listening as well as speaking. Everyone who lobbies or begins a discussion starts with an opinion about the issue, and that point of view should be expressed. It is equally important to hear what the other person’s point of view is and why he and she holds it. How does this knowledge help you make a connection with that person?
It involves looking for that of God in the other person even – especially – when that is difficult. Too often in politics, people become defined and then demonized by their viewpoints. Building the kind of relationship that will lead to change requires finding a shared, human connection. You don’t have to like the other person, but you do have to be able to speak in a way that he or she can hear you.
Does this sound hard to do? It is. Yet it can also lead to results. We encourage you to take this attitude with you as you engage in policy discussions in this election year.