We have rightfully seen hundreds of calls for “civility” in our political process and discourse recently. While I wholeheartedly endorse and agree with those calls, I also believe that civility isn’t enough.
If we want our Congress to actually come together after this election cycle and govern for the good of the country, there must be something beyond civility — a higher calling, if you will. For this republic and this country to survive, we will need new leaders in Congress to heal the nation and practice a higher level of wisdom.
We live in a time of widespread polarization. This division brings pain and disables our capacity to solve problems. We need to go beyond the rules of civility because we need so much more than nice. We need to be real if we are to birth the creativity that emerges when two or more minds work together for a common goal.
How we say something has more impact than what we say. Our dialogue now is ugly and ineffective. Those who should model it, don’t. Media and academia are among the worst offenders. Journalists and academics should teach, not preach. We rely on them to dig out the facts. We can think for ourselves. Politicians vie to keep power instead of creating solutions.
We offer these five rules for healing the nation:
1. Find common vision, not common ground.
Without vision, the people perish. Without a common goal, nothing will get us there. We should ban the phrase “common ground” because the metaphor implies we need to start at the same place. We don’t need to have the same thoughts or feelings. We need to agree only on an outcome. When a dialogue starts, our first question should be: “What is your desired outcome?” If there is no common vision, exit and be friendly. “Yeah, but …” is the prelude to head-butting. Vow not to add to any more polarization.
2. Work for understanding, not agreement.
Seek first to understand, to quote Saint Francis. Make the effort to see the world from another’s eyes, not to be nice, but to be wise. We want diversity of thought and feeling. Let’s sharpen our conceptual swords as we define the issue. Seeking agreement of thought is the biggest block to real dialogue. We need to understand each other to develop synergy and strengthen the connective tissue that weathers the storm of divergent views. If the other person does not seek to understand you, exit the conversation.
3. Conduct solution-focused, not problem-saturated discussions,
Brainstorm ways to achieve the shared vision. We can be guided by liberal, conservative or libertarian paradigms. The more perspectives, the better. These philosophies are theories that contain our values, but they are hypotheses, not facts. Allow for a mixture of methods. The vision is the only unifying force. We “run together” along different paths toward a common goal. If the other person gets problem-saturated, exit. Be nice — no need to polarize.
4. Negotiate action, not thoughts or feelings.
Another stumbling block to problem-solving is the habit of “negotiating thoughts or feelings.” Never negotiate thoughts or feelings, only actions. Understanding, yes, agreement, no. This is action-focused. Will you, or won’t you? Will is the instrument of negotiation. We commit to an action plan that could get us there. We can commit to doing something about which we have mixed thoughts or mixed feelings. If there is no mutual sharing, exit nicely. This isn’t about winning an argument, which is a rational endeavor. Wisdom is about healing and solving.
5. Evaluate outcomes based on facts, not ideologies.
Ideologies are theories that guide us. But every theory is meant to be tested by its predictive capacities, not by its rhetorical beauty. We humbly submit to the cold reality of the facts. We cannot let our ego-invested attachments to an ideology dictate our assessment of the results. By their fruits, you shall know them.
Americans will never run out of common goals. These goals are staring us in the face. We all want a thriving economy, great healthcare, safety, freedom, a clean environment, government efficiency, justice for all, respect and equal opportunity irrespective of creed, color or gender. The power of how we talk to one another is the key. Let us connect and create together.
We can argue at the emotional or the rational levels. This will not do. It takes wisdom to guide relationships toward a common goal. We must be willing to do the right thing and go beyond being right. Will you take leadership for the relationship?
At times we have proven that we can go beyond civility. I must admit, Congress sure seems to get more done without cameras and media asking pointed questions to pit us against each other. When hosting bipartisan events, we’ve held bipartisan discussions on top issues such as immigration, which Congress has struggled to address for years. We focused on our goals and outcomes, not feelings. We can apply this same focus on health care and all major challenges. Civility is nice and necessary, but we need real, authentic dialogue to thrive as a society.
We have proven, when we go beyond civility, we can accomplish anything.
Roger Marshall represents Kansas’ 1st District in the U.S. House of Representatives. He co-authored this with author and leadership coach Ramon Corrales.