Listen and inquire: Opinions are great, but not the same as facts

August 2019 Posted in Columnists & Opinion

Writing a column can be difficult at best, especially when one’s mind is following a single track and seldom strays from that. It would be easy to talk about politics every month since there is so much material to work with.

A good friend (Let’s call her “Cindy Jones”, in case she was seeking anonymity, lol) asked me recently, “How do we get back to courtesy in our civil discourse?”

Quite a question. Many answers, some of which are simply ideas slung onto a Velcro wall with a silent prayer that they stick. As one of my favorite human beings on earth, “Cindy” deserves a well-thought out response.

My thoughts, as usual, break into a song. When You Say Nothing at All.  Keith Whitley and Alison Krauss both made this song famous, but it now provides one solution in getting the horse of civility back into the barn. Like the song says, “You say it best when you say nothing at all.” Not everything requires a response. Diplomacy is even better – “I understand you believe that sincerely and I respect that. My thoughts run a different course.”

Another concept, remote to many who have a burning desire to be the smartest person in the room: listen to what the other person is saying. Like actually listen before responding. Most human beings have a strong tendency to hear “blah blah blah” while formulating their rebuttal or canned response before the speaker has barely moved her lips. What if the “blah blah blah” was meaningful and an honest representation of how they really feel? If you are formulating your response, you are missing what they are trying to relay. Two ears, one mouth – what does that suggest?

An opinion is, well, an opinion. A fact is a fact. Deep thinking, Dixon. But dig deeper. There is no real definitive proof that your opinion is a fact. It is simply what you believe to be true for whatever reason – you read a lot, your parents felt that way, someone read your Tarot cards, it was all over social media so it must be true… Here is the truth – my opinion is mine. All mine. There is little you can do to change it, unless you have something that is actually factual. A real fact. It is not a fact because Rachel Maddow or Sean Hannity said it. They offer opinions.

A rancher in Eastern Oregon has every right to believe that less government is good, taxes for needle exchange programs goes against the grain of his or her values, and the “right to bear arms” is indelible. An urbanite has every right to believe that climate change must be addressed now before it is too late (and I believe this to be true), and that the costs of mitigation is gonna hurt everyone in the pocketbook.

Winning an election 51 to 49 percent does NOT mean two things – that your “winning” side has a mandate and the other side doesn’t count. It means you are close enough to compromise, as in a Venn Diagram. We have many differences, way more similarities, and it is where we connect in the middle where progress can be made. It won’t really happen with super majorities locally, regionally, or nationally. That is like “The Rock” arm-wrestling Justin Bieber.

Compromise is not a four-letter word. While we never want to compromise our core values, perhaps we can seek common ground and solutions that, when derived from a group process representing all different viewpoints, can allow participants to walk away with their heads held high, tell their peers “It isn’t a perfect solution but I can support it”, and will stand the test of time?

Common courtesy. Listening attentively. Doing your own research rather than spitting back someone else’s diatribe verbatim. Respect. Civil discourse. Compromise where we can without giving away the farm. This is how America becomes greater. Again.

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