Not too long ago I was having an out-patient medical procedure. The technician was extremely nice and I thanked her for it because it made the test much easier for me. She said that others in field are often harsh, even militaristic, and her preference was to make the procedure as easy as possible for her patients.
I thanked her again and then said that it had been my experience that most people who are nice have empathy and are more likely to be liberal than conservative. I asked her if she would mind telling me if her political leanings were more liberal than conservative.
She said, yes, her views are primarily more liberal than conservative. She added that she had not grown up in a household where politics was much discussed. When she was in college, she signed up for a political science class so that she could become a more informed citizen.
Unfortunately, she had a professor who seemed to have too much of a mean gene to be an effective teacher. He humiliated many of his students, including the soon-to-be medical technician. She found it extremely uncomfortable when he would call on her in class with a question that he knew was about material that the class had not yet covered.
As you might expect, she dropped the course – quickly so that she could withdraw without a tuition penalty. The net result was that a woman who preferred politeness rather than nastiness had to endure unnecessary insults. Equally important is that someone who wanted to become a more active citizen had a bad experience with politics and still regrets that she did not have an opportunity to learn more about politics and current events.
The problems that students around the world have with nasty teachers are renowned and are addressed elsewhere. The problem of interested citizens wanting to learn more about politics but not finding a comfortable path to politics creates a significant problem in a democracy. The problem of friendly individuals not connecting with progressive politics is a tremendous loss for both these individuals and the progressive movement.
In so many ways, progressive politics involve the same degree of nastiness as the conservative movement does. Does Chris Matthews treat you with any more dignity than Bill O’Reilly? Does a solicitation from a Democrat include any less invective than that of a Republican? Perhaps so, but if so, not by much.
Politics is the means by which we try to build a consensus within the country. This common ground should reflect an amalgam of the beliefs of all Americans who participate in the process. One thing that we can learn from the medical technician is that the world of politics is not a very welcoming place for many who are nice, empathetic and caring. Yes, there are many nice and caring people who participate in politics and by and large are progressives. But many of the can be “in your face,” at least when it comes to written communication. The progressive movement can benefit from focusing on what’s most valuable in politics – votes. The idea is for kind people to want to engage in politics – at least to the extent of voting. We don’t want to turn them off by asking for things that they have no interest in giving.
So here are some suggestions for doing a better job of connecting kindness to progressive politics. You’ll note that many of the ideas are of the do not variety:
- Progressives could create thousands of meet-up type groups around the country which are primarily designed to make politics more welcoming. They need not be exclusive to progressives but they should be limited to people who prefer environments that are low-keyed and constructive.
- If someone does not want to make a political contribution to a candidate or an interest group, don’t ask them. If the person first wants to learn more about politics, let him or her be able to state right off the bat that he or she doesn’t want to be solicited for money.
- If an individual says that he or she does not have time to engage in the “grunt work” of politics, let that person be. You can be a terrific person and still be someone who does not like to knock on doors or stuff envelopes.
- If an individual does not like being pounded with e-mails from numerous progressive candidates and organizations, honor that person’s request to “chill and stop sending unwanted e-mails.”
- Do not foist upon voters negative campaigning. Comparing records in an objective manner is fair but lambasting an opponent does not work for an individual with a kind disposition.
My requests are quite selfish; I much prefer thoughtful politics focused on issues rather than being constantly asked to join a bandwagon. If we would turn off the harsh noise of our “solicitation on steroids,” we would go a long way in encouraging kind people to engage in politics, most particularly by voting progressive.
Since 1969, Arthur Lieber has been teaching and working in non-profit educational organizations. His focus has been on promoting critical, creative, and enjoyable learning for students in informal settings. In the 2010 mid-term elections, he was the Democratic nominee for US Congress from Missouri’s 2nd Congressional District.