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Lawmakers “fighting” for us hardly helps

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Have you noticed all the fighting that goes on at the statehouse and in the Capitol? It’s hardly a secret—lawmakers regularly tell us they are fighting for us. Think about how often you hear the phrase.

Are our legislators really fighting, or do they actually mean they are advocating a position?  Should we care about the language they use? Am I just being too particular about what some might characterize as a figure of speech?

Maybe not. Let’s put this in context and look at the big picture. When’s the last time you saw Democrats and Republicans playing nice together and moving forward in a cooperative way? Do you remember anything except acrimony from either political party? Have you seen the two sides working constructively? No. All the statesmen who knew how to negotiate and work a deal have left and gone home. Legislators like former senator George V. Voinovich are becoming a thing of the past.

Considering that both state and federal lawmakers routinely engage in a process that is more akin to fighting, I think words do matter, and I think our lawmakers are telling us exactly what they’re doing. Think about it. Words define our intentions. They describe how we feel, and how we intend to act. So, when a lawmaker says that he’s fighting for something, he establishes a mindset where listening, reasoning and discussion are not on his agenda. He’s set to fight, which means a lot of talking and no listening and being critical of anyone with a different view.  The goal is to win. Period!

What’s really remarkable about this fighting attitude is that it sometimes seems that only our legislators have it. Think about how you handle differences of opinion and different goals in your personal life. Do you “fight” with your wife that you should be able to play golf every Saturday, or do you try to persuade her?  At worst, maybe you gently argue about the benefits of golfing with your buds, but if you’re fighting with your wife, you’ll soon have bigger problems than a few missed golf outings.

What about when you disagree with your boss? Rather than hostile discourse, you probably try to nudge him into seeing your position and show him that you can improve whatever you’re both concerned about. You don’t fight with him, do you?  You want to keep your job, right?

Same thing when it comes to your business partners. Fight with your business partner long enough, and soon the business begins to suffer.  Fight too much, and your partner hires an attorney and asks the court to appoint a receiver.

In any healthy relationship—personal or business—we wouldn’t think about referring to how we interact with others as fighting. We say we have disagreements or that we don’t see eye-to-eye, but fighting? No, we know deep down that to suggest that we’re fighting with people who are close to us means we’re at a dead end in the relationship—and in big trouble.

So, why do we do it in the political context?  Maybe legislators have lost sight of the big picture. Like it or not, we’re in this together, and we can succeed only to the extent that we cooperate.  That means trying to persuade while also listening.

When we go enter highly charged situations with the idea that we’re fighting for something, there can’t be any dialogue because, by definition, we’re fighting, and you only fight with enemies. You can’t engage an enemy in meaningful conversation. The result is a group of talking heads, each repeating his position, while being deaf to the other side—a death spiral of sorts.

So, yes, words matter. I suspect that even the most uncompromising legislators who think they have to fight for their constituents live their lives differently when it comes to their spouses and staffs. To do otherwise would mean they suffer miserably at home and in their offices. Then again, maybe some legislators were born to fight—and enjoy it.

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Jack D’Aurora writes for considerthisbyjd.com

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