“Listen before speaking.” That jumped out at me in the Principles of Holy Conferencing, handed out at a church committee meeting recently by our pastor, Desi Larson. I have a bad habit of interrupting people when they are talking, so I can speak. I’m working on this. It’s helps to remind myself that I don’t know everything, something I’m realizing more and more as I get older.
The Principles come from John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, who saw that we could experience God’s grace through prayer, scripture reading, fasting, the Lord’s Prayer and Holy Conferencing. Given that fasting is never going to be on my to-do list, the others have to be.
As I read through the list of eight principles, I crossed off the words “Holy Conferencing” and turned this into the Principles of Politics. Boy, politics would be oh-so-much better if every politician followed these principles:
• Every person is a child of God.
• Listen before speaking.
• Strive to understand from another’s point of view.
• Strive to reflect accurately the views of others.
• Disagree without being disagreeable.
• Speak about issues; do not defame people.
• Pray, in silence or aloud, before decisions.
• Let prayer interrupt your busy-ness.
Let’s take them one by one. If you do not believe in God, you might change “Every person is a child of God” to something like “Every person deserves your respect.” If candidates simply respected each other, campaigns might be more positive.
Without naming names, I will tell you that I’ve known many candidates who have found it nearly impossible to listen. One major candidate once told me, after I’d urged him more than once to do more listening and less talking, that he was working on it, but it was “hard.”
I responded, “Hard! How hard is it to zip your lip?”
These are the candidates who, after shaking your hand, are looking over your shoulder to see who might be coming next, rather than listening to what you are saying. Watch their eyes! Sen. Angus King could be a role model on this one, possibly because he really likes people and hearing what they have to say.
Striving to understand from another’s point of view is a requirement for anyone who hopes to succeed in government and our political system. Achievements require compromise, and compromise starts with understanding what others want. If you don’t understand the views and expectations of your opponents, you ought not to be in public office. It’s not all about you.
The next principle is a hard one: “Strive to reflect accurately the views of others.” Distortion of your opponent’s views is the first principle of politics these days. It seems to be it should be possible to point out where you disagree with your opponent, without distorting your opponent’s views and actions.
Which brings us to the next principle: “Speak about issues; do not defame people.” Lest you missed the most recent round of political advertising, let me tell you that it consisted of a lot of defaming. And lying. Good people were trashed, day after day. It sickened me.
The whole campaign system is out of whack now because groups not directly associated with the candidates can attack candidates with little to no accountability. This can even be frustrating for the candidates who want to run positive campaigns. But negative advertising works — because you let it influence your votes. More defamation is coming this fall. It may get so bad that we don’t like any of the candidates.
I really love the next principle: “It is possible to disagree without being disagreeable.” And if you are paying any attention at all to politicians these days, you know who needs to know this. When I started hanging around the state Capitol 40 years ago, legislators would have great debates, then go out to dinner together. Because they knew each other and had good relationships, they could disagree about issues without being ugly and partisan. Today, not so much.
In fact, two outstanding legislators who could do this are giving up the Legislature this year: Sens. Pat Flood, R-Winthrop, and Richard Woodbury, I-Yarmouth. I suspect they are frustrated beyond measure with the process and with politics. And that’s really too bad, because we need a whole lot more like these two.
The final two principles suggest prayer before decisions and to interrupt your busy-ness. Simply pausing and quietly reflecting and reassessing before making important decisions is certainly wise. And most of us need some way to slow down.