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The Unfortunate Debate Episode Continues
Sunday, Oct. 10, 2004, 10:13 a.m.

QUESTION: How do you turn off the ringer on this thing?

WHAT I LEARNED: Be nice.

I suppose I should finish the tale I started yesterday so buckle up. After the smoke had cleared from the tiff my dad and I engaged in over a TV channel and the presidential debate which Iíll just call the unfortunate debate channel switching episode, I called my mom. I figured at least we would have a reasonable chat about it. She took my dadís side. My mom's reasoning for excusing my dadís name-calling is two-pronged. First, evidently she believes that everyone uses that type of language anymore so hey, big deal Ė deal with it. Second, my dad was just trying to be nice by telling me what channel I had to switch to so in reality I needed to apologize to him. Thatís an interesting take on reality. Argument two ensued. This time with my mom.

I know my dad called me a "f***ing idiot" in a moment of political heat but I hope I will never be enough of an idiot to believe these justifications. I am sorry to have argued with my mom though. I love her dearly and it pains me to be on the outs with her.

I learned a couple things from all of this. It is easy to be taken by surprise by peopleís words and actions and when that happens we may not react as best we should. Asking is better than demanding. Even when youíre 50, your parents will sometimes treat you like you are 10. Sometimes you have to agree to disagree and keep that promise even if it feels almost impossible to do. Even with the best of intentions in our hearts, itís easy for any one of us to become rude and discourteous in the name of partisanship and then justify our actions as correct because we think our cause is correct. In the end, the damage we can do to our relationships with our family, friends, acquaintances, and coworkers should be considered before we just mouth off in the name of free speech. I like free speech. Free speech is great. Free speech doesnít mean rude speech. Free speech doesnít mean thoughtless speech. It doesnít mean lack-of-consideration-for-your-fellow-man speech. It doesnít mean not-treating-other-people-with-respect-and-courtesy speech.

It is also easy to make assumptions about what other people think and why they think it. For instance, some of my gentle readers, upon perusing the sad details of the unfortunate debate channel switching episode yesterday, may have made the assumption that I was the noble Kerry supporter being bugged by my Dad, the annoying Bush guy. You would be dead wrong. It was the other way around. I was in fact the noble Bush supporter being bugged by my Dad, the annoying Kerry guy. Go figure.

I believe that unkindness, cruelty, rudeness, hostility, disrespect, arrogance, condescension, and lack of common courtesy diminish us, our causes, and any chance we have of changing another personís mind towards our course of thinking. Itís hard to take the high road and the low road is mighty inviting sometimes. Donít be tempted. I think weíll all fare better in the long run if we just play nice and are considerate of one another. Thatís a playground rule and it never changes over our lifetime.

So this, my friends, is a cautionary tale. I love my parents and my parents love me but even in the heart of the family common courtesy can be lost in the heat of the moment Ė especially a politically moment. Life goes on after politics and your relationships with families, friends, and colleagues are more important than being right 24/7. Hard words are often difficult to put aside especially when we rationalize to ourselves that we did nothing wrong by simply speaking our mind (especially because we are so obviously right). So what if we raised our voice and were arrogant Ė we were right. So what if we embarrassed somebody and made things personal Ė we were right. So what if we didnít really listen to what the other person had to say Ė what do they know anyway? How did some of us get so smart (those we agree with) and how did some of us get so stupid (those we disagree with)? Good question.

Over the next few weeks many of use will have strong feelings about the upcoming elections and who should win and who should not and why and why not. The truth of it is that the United States has been having elections for plenty of years and the natural result of that process is that some people will wake up on the day after the election to find that their candidate did not carry the day. Itís disappointing. And life will go on. So have a spirited debate about politics that integrates respect with an honest dialogue and always remember that people are more important than politics. We can all learn a thing or two about a thing or two from each other if we speak so others can listen and listen with the intent of hearing what is said.

Just remember my fellow Americans, if you donít like what you got Ė in four years you can give it another shot.

The biggest thing I have learned from all of this is - just don't answer the phone during a presidential debate. Sometime it's the simple solutions that work the best in life.


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