Monday, July 06, 2015

Americans Can Hold Contradictions – Why Not Lawmakers

Anyone bent on loosening regulations on water quality and environmental protection overall is well advised to look at the new Harris Poll.

It shows that 77% of Americans support stricter environmental protection, a ratio of more than 3-to-1. This includes 58% of Republicans.

Showing the strength of those sentiments, those who feel strongly are 4 to 1 in favor of stricter environmental protection.

Americans also support less government regulation by a ratio of 2.4 to 1, including 57% of Democrats and 76% of Independents.

Those who feel strongly are 4.6-to-1 in favor of less government regulation.

Of course, according to Republican friends of mine who have held high office, opposition in that party is more about the fact that regulations aren’t being enforced and when they are, all too often it is unevenly.

So why is it then, that seemingly well-intended Republican lawmakers at the state and national level seem so indiscriminate when it comes to what they call regulation reform?

Some pundits speculate that it is a passive-aggressive reaction among those who have not had to actually govern before.  Others think it is because they hear or listen only to an eco-chamber of confirmation bias.

Others fear it is due to “solution aversion,” or what’s called “motivated skepticism.”

But it might be as simple as the inability for many people to “hold contradictions in creative tension,” a condition that seems to escalate when people are elected to high office where they become adversarial listeners.

It’s the same discomfort that prevents so many of us from thinking strategically, a discomfort with uncertainty, paradox and ambiguity.

There is a term for the inability to hold contradictory ideas simultaneously.  Researchers In psychology call it cognitive dissonance.

It makes some elected officials seem suddenly too stupid to accept what their constituents obviously can, the seeming paradoxical views that we need stricter environmental protection and less government regulation.

Or is it that special interests won’t let them?

The issue of gun rights is another example.  By a margin of 59% to 41%, Americans support stricter gun control including more than a third of Republicans.

Americans opposed to stricter gun measures also include 43% of Independents and 20% of Democrats.

Those who feel strongly in favor of stricter gun control (38%) outnumber those strongly opposed (24%) according to the Harris poll.

Even more telling though, according to recent Pew poll, is that even a majority of NRA member households while adamant about protecting gun rights are also heavily (74%) in favor some measures of gun control such as background checks for private gun sales.

In fact, a third also support bans on assault-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips.

Political ideology has been defined as “an interrelated set of moral and political attitudes that possesses cognitive, affective, and motivational components.”

It may be useful as a means to funnel and align ideas but it can also make us blind to subtleties and contradictions we hold.  At its worst though, in the words of Pope Francis, it makes us “hostile and arrogant” as well as stupid.

Many of us want desperately for our states and nation to be led by lawmakers who can hold contradictions such as those I’ve used as examples in this essay but that will mean more than a swing of the pendulum of whose in the majority.

As Americans, we each need to be better at expressing the contradistinctions we hold rather than just hoping elected officials more diligently read opinion polls.

In his extraordinary book entitled Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit, Dr. Parker J. Palmer, a Quaker educator and writer, notes that five interwoven habits of the heart are needed.

He uses two words to summarize all five: “chutzpah and humility.”

By chutzpah he means having “a voice that needs to be heard and the right to speak it.”

By humility he means “accepting the fact that my truth is always partial and may not be true at all – so I need to listen with openness and respect, especially to “the other,” as much as I need to speak my own voice with clarity and conviction.”

Usually, anyone running for office has the first on steroids.

When we elect representatives, I dare say that it is the latter that should guide our choice.

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