I also mourn the assassinations in Arizona

Posted by The Real Don Johnson on Sunday, February 06, 2011 5:47:55 AM

This is an essay I had intended to write, but not now, and not under the circumstances of Arizona which compels me to sit at the keyboard now.

I knew following the 2008 elections that America would be facing renewed, intense and prolonged political campaigning, with our president campaigning pretty much full time for re-election, and potential opposition candidates campaigning just as hard to be in a position to be on the ballot in 2012. And all this a full two years prior to the election.

But this is not an essay about politics. It is not a rant about my politics vs. your politics. It is not about my party and candidate vs. yours. No, all of that can come later. This is about whether or not we should even have the conversation about politics in the first place. Should we risk relationships and friendships by introducing politics into our daily conversations? Or should we just banish these topics altogether? Can we ignore the elephant that is in the room and talk about only things that are safe?

My opinion is that we need to, and should, discuss politics in our everyday conversations. We need to find ways to discuss politics, but in ways that are constructive and helpful, and I believe the assassinations in Arizona highlight the urgent need to do exactly that.

Like it or not, politics is with us at so many turns and points in our lives. In some fashion or another politics affects virtually everything in our lives. From the zoning ordinances in our communities, the honesty and integrity of our
local leadership as they manage the trust placed in them by the citizens of the community. Spending priorities that effect our public health and safety, how our children are educated. Decisions that determine whether our sons and
daughters go to war. Political decisions that shape the business climate in our cities, states and the nation in order that we remain competitive in the world.
Political decisions that effect and determine the type and amount of freedoms we have as individuals and as a nation.

So how do we keep engaged in politics, and engage others in conversations that build up, and not tear down? I’ve been thinking and reflecting on this question much lately. I have been guilty of the quick temper and the quick opinion which most often results in a shutdown of the conversation. This bothers me, but it is in the human nature of me that I struggle to avoid such confrontations, and so often fail. It is so much easier to say nothing, to sit in silence rather than offer a contrary opinion. But because the stakes are so high, I firmly believe we must have these conversations. We need to be actively engaged as citizens, and need to have our voices heard lest those voices be silenced and only the voices of the professionals be heard.

Hopefully as my years have accumulated, some amount of wisdom shall have accumulated as well. Wisdom that so often is seen only when the foot is removed from the mouth. In any case, let me offer up a few things for your consideration:

  • Be informed in your opinions and politics; this means the hard work and study
    of the foundational values and principles of our republic. Read the Declaration
    of Independence and the Constitution. Understand the reasons and thinking
    behind why our founders constructed the governmental institutions as they did.
  • Read biographies of some of the great men of our founding generation;
    Washington, Hamilton Madison Jefferson. What influenced them? What were their
    goals and dreams, what were their fears and failings?
    In short, know what you believe, and why you believe it.
  • When heading into a potentially contentious conversation or argument, try some
    the following conversational techniques:
    "Have you considered the potential consequences of such a policy with
    regards to ….. yada yada yada?"
    "Yes, I understand your concern in that matter, but you also might want to
    hear what …… has to say about it also."
    "Yes, I also have been giving much thought to …..yadayadayada…., and
    my conclusion is that …….."
    "We obviously have differing opinions on this matter, and with your
    permission and indulgence I would respectfully like to present my
    "On what basis do you come to that conclusion?"
    "OK, we are getting nowhere with this, so let us just stop where we are,
    respect one another and perhaps continue on another day"

One final thought as I conclude.

In my younger years, I recall the expression "I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it", was quite common. I don’t hear it much anymore, but it is a very useful and powerful thought that brings with it a profound sense of unity. In a sense it is a summary and paraphrase of the Bill of Rights in our Constitution. I remember one occasion in which I used it was in a discussion a bunch of us young sailors were having in the barracks. Thinking back on that episode, I find it ironic that my use of that phrase could very well have had a literal fulfillment. It was just prior to my assignment to a San Diego based destroyer which would subsequently head off to a war zone. When the USS Porterfield set sail to the Western Pacific in January 1966, I’m not sure I realized there was even a war going on, or that I may have to " … defend to the death …".
Most respectfully,


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