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The Argument for Understanding over Unity

Earlier this week, NASA successfully landed a rover on Mars. These unmanned space missions don’t have quite the national excitement they used to but it was still a tremendous technological feat. Also this week, a smoke alarm in my house started to chirp, which led me to remove two units from the ceiling although the culprit ended up being the first one.

As I wondered if we had any 9v, struggled to pry the connection loose and triple-checked to be sure I did in fact have the failing unit, the contrast between my mundane smoke detector scavenger hunt and the marvel of NASA’s Mars landing struck me. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

This cliche is as outdated as it is trite. It’s not that technology hasn’t caught up with smoke detectors yet, there are plenty of affordable bluetooth models on the market that would have helped my hunt, but rather the fact that I haven’t adapted myself. The world has changed, I have not.

As a conservative, I’m often tempted to resist the word change. Conservatism to me is the preservation of American laws, values and doctrine established in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Though the latter of these two has changed over time with the addition of amendments, they have remained bedrocks of guiding ideology for two and a half centuries. Change is to be expected in all other parts of life however, and though I may try to resist it as a result of personal temperament, to outright reject change would be to deny a life lived to the fullest.

Last month change was the topic of conversation both nationally and locally. Crystal River Mayor Joe Meek and Chronicle weekly columnist Cortney Stewart each had columns on Sunday, Jan. 18 calling for more unity or rational discourse respectively. They asserted these changes in behavior needed to be made to improve society.

Mayor Meek is a former client of Winsler Consulting, someone who I had the utmost respect for before working together, and that only increased when seeing his unrivaled optimism in the good that dedicated public service can do for others. I’ve never met Ms. Stewart but I read her columns most weeks and find her opinions to be insightful as she distinguishes herself as a talented writer. That being said, the more those columns added to an ongoing conversation, the less it felt like they were striking at the heart of the change that needed to occur.

We need understanding more than unity. This understanding will help us start to speak to people with whom we disagree in a way that eliminates some of the frustrating gaps in our ability to communicate.

There are two P’s important to this distinction - one negative and one positive like the nodes of the 9v battery I struggled with in my smoke detector. The negative P is partisanship. To be a partisan is to be a loyalist to a brand such as a political party. This is in contrast to the positive P which is polarization. This may give you pause, after all, increased polarization is often blamed for our toxic political climate. I disagree with this assessment though. Polarization means the trending of the masses toward ideological extremes.

The unity Mayor Meek is admirably calling for and the rational discourse Ms. Stewart is smartly suggesting as a way forward are hindered by partisans who virtue signal their loyalty through divisive tactics. Ideological polarized people, however, can disagree with people who don’t share their ideas but are free to do so without the vitriol of a partisan. They can change their approach to understand where someone who doesn’t believe in their values is coming from and debate in a way that broadens the discussion beyond Republican good, Democrat bad or vice versa.

I added to the unity conversation as well in a speech I gave to the Crystal River Rotary on Jan. 4 in which I argued against the need for moderation of personal viewpoints or the elimination of viewpoints from others. We don’t have to compromise on our own beliefs toward the ideological center though the process of governing may move us there and we shouldn’t want to see sides we disagree with defeated because, as Ms. Stewart correctly pointed out in her January column, national discourse is improved through a diversity of perspectives.

The answer is recognition and reconciliation, two forms of understanding, that I will continue to write about in future work.


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