Freedom Habit: Discuss

Pray and Study you can do alone, without human contact. This one requires you to extend yourself to others.

It will require a thick skin at times. Whatever your religion, people will think you’re bad at it, if you don’t support the “right” candidate (which might be the “left” one). Some will say things like, “I don’t see how a good Mormon could ever vote for ________.” (Fill in the name of the candidate they’re voting for and you’re not, and change “Mormon” to your religion of choice.)

Even if religion doesn’t enter the picture, party or persuasion will. “No real conservative could vote for ________. Everybody knows the true conservative [a toxic incantation in Utah politics, at least] is _________.” In Utah you can be called out as a socialist or Marxist for failing to support someone’s favorite (right) wing nut. At Cornell I was called a fascist for wondering if capital punishment might be a good thing in some cases, and if abortion might sometimes be a bad thing.

The thing that usually comes closest to setting me off is not the name-calling. It’s the condescending way in which people suggest that, if I had only read the US Constitution once or twice and spent a little time studying the founders, there’s no way I could hold my views — or any others different from theirs. (For the record, I’ve done a lot of that, not just a little.)

Then there was the guy who cornered me in a restroom at a Utah County Republican convention and insisted that he had been a mainstream Republican all his life, and he was still being perfectly mainstream by asking the delegates to approve his resolution calling illegal immigration “Satan’s Plan.” (Satan’s Plan is a useful but frequently misunderstood Mormon theological concept. It is often misappropriated by Mormon teenagers and right-wing Mormon zealots.)

That was the day when I pulled on my burnt-orange shirt (earlier, while still at home) and made plans formally to vote for Satan for the first time. The resolution never came to a vote. A similar one did two years later, and on that occasion I was prepared and managed to give a short speech urging my fellow delegates to vote for Satan, too. (I didn’t use those words.) But I digress. Or do I? Maybe my point is, sometimes Discuss can be a fun Freedom Habit.

I’ve been called all sorts of nasty names on the Internet and in print, when trying to articulate my views. On the other hand, I’ve heard a radio talk show host say on the air, “Thank heaven for David Rodeback” — then quote me more or less accurately. Others, less publicly, have called me a “voice of reason,” or in one case “the designated driver at a frat house party.”

My favorite public critique was in an op/ed — responding to my op/ed — in the The Ithaca Journal in 1996, calling my argument “sanctimonious claptrap.” Those who know me don’t find it altogether untrue or improbable. Nor do I. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been laughing at it for 18 years and counting. I’ve thought more than once that it would make a great name for a blog (presumably mine). But I haven’t used it that way yet.

I’m not God’s gift to political discussion, but here are a few suggestions, if you’re thinking of diving in:

  • Listen more than you talk.
  • Generally, it’s best to make one point at a time, concisely, and avoid trying to say everything you’re thinking all at once.
  • You don’t have to jump into discussions on every topic all the time. Now and then, pick a discussion on a topic you care about or want to understand better, and join it.
  • Be civil — and when others are civil with you, thank them, no matter what their views.
  • When people disagree with you, listen. You may learn something. Even if you don’t, remember that friendly disagreement makes for better discussion than universal agreement.
  • “Why do you think that?” is a better question than “How can you think that?”
  • Change your mind, when circumstances warrant. Suspend judgment often.
  • Learn to enjoy how discussion and debate refine your own thoughts and arguments.
  • Some folks think that your disagreeing with them makes you evil. Don’t be one of them.
  • Persist. Then retire briefly to lick your wounds, if necessary. Then persist some more.

If you’re now thinking, “Yeah, David, practice what you preach,” I respond that I try. I don’t always succeed. But I often enjoy the attempt.

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