I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years reminding everyone who would listen that the culture leads and politics lag behind. For me, that’s an encouraging perspective. It would be beyond depressing if our nation’s fate was determined by the agendas of our political leaders.
I’m with the 91% who believe that volunteering for community activities has a more positive impact than engagement in political campaigns. It’s exciting when Americans use their freedom to work together in community and help create a better world.
It’s also thrilling to see what new technologies are doing that will improve our health care systems, create more educational opportunities, and provide other societal benefits. Along with 71% of voters, I recognize that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates have done more to shape our world than all eight U.S. presidents who have served since Apple and Microsoft was created.
Still, while I am thankful that our politicians are less important than they think they are, I am saddened by the toxic nature of our political dialogue. I understand why 81% prefer to avoid talking politics in social settings, but a part of me wishes it wasn’t that way.
Before last Friday night, however, I didn’t see any other way to deal with the realities before us. I had settled for believing that it was better to work around politics than to think we could do anything to make political dialogue less offensive. But on Friday, I had the privilege of listening to Arthur Brooks explain how the culture can lead us to a healthier political system.
Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, shocked many in the room by saying that civility and tolerance are not the antidote to political polarization. What, he wondered, would we think of his marriage if he and his wife were civil and tolerated each other?
The answer, according to Brooks, is that for our political system to work effectively, we need to love those who disagree with us. If we are attacked on social media, for example, Brooks said we should not fight back. Instead, we should offer a warm-hearted response. He encouraged everyone in attendance to seek out those who disagree with them and find a way to respond in love. Thank your opponents for taking the time to comment on your work. Thank them for their opinion. Show them you really care.
For those committed to unending political battles, such a response sounds weak. But it’s actually the most difficult response of all. From a pop culture perspective, Brooks echoed the ongoing tension of the Star Wars saga—the greatest challenge of all is refusing to give in to the dark side. Every time one of us responds in love rather than hate, our political system will be a little better off.
Nothing in that Friday night speech changed the basic reality that the culture and technology lead while politics and politicians lag behind. Instead, it helped me see that working around the political system is not enough. We must rely upon the culture to fix our broken political system. And the path forward is for one person after another to respond in love.