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HOOSER: The politics of debate and dialogue

Either I’m evil or I’m ignorant was the message delivered to me recently via email. Another scolded me, saying she was offended that I had not responded to her email within three days.

It seems supporting an end to the violence by asking all sides to stop the killing is either a stupid idea or one driven by the devil himself. And not offering an immediate response while traveling and focusing on family priorities during the holiday season — is somehow deplorable and offensive.

Fortunately, the vast majority of email feedback I receive is positive in nature, with even those who disagree expressing their arguments thoughtfully while acknowledging that we might see things differently.

I believe good people can look at the same facts and come to different conclusions without calling each other names, or questioning character, or motives.

In my experience, engaging in conversation and debate is only productive when there’s some genuine attempt to understand where the other person is coming from and trying to go to.

Each of us look at the world through a different lens formed from our upbringing and general life experiences. The world-view of someone raised in poverty and extreme hardship is likely radically different from someone else born into a life of privilege and entitlement, and of course the religious faith, the country and time in history you were born in, has a significant impact as well.

Our individual world view is our basic perspective on life and the starting point for every decision and every conversation we have. It’s not necessarily right or wrong, it just is what it is.

When attempting to resolve differences it’s important to try to put yourself into “their shoes” in order to better understand the underlying basis of their conclusions. This doesn’t happen through confrontation or mockery which simply escalates the confrontation and deepens the division.

During these times of seemingly constant turmoil, the words “Peace on Earth, Good Will Towards All Humankind” must be remembered and repeated. Let’s try especially hard at this particular moment in time and into the coming year to be a little bit nicer, more respectful, and more tolerant of each other.

It’s only through de-escalation and reconciliation that conflict and disagreements are resolved.

Whether it’s an argument with one’s children about homework, a community confrontation about development, a political debate on the chamber floor, or international military brinkmanship, ultimately it requires a de-escalation of hostilities for anything productive or positive to be achieved.

Ramping up the dialogue simply ramps up the tempers, backs people into corners and triggers pushback and sometime retaliation.

This is not to say that bad actors and bad actions should not be called out publicly. In fact it’s critically important that we do so.

But we must remember I think, that words matter and we must choose them carefully — especially if our goal is to change that persons mind or a position on an issue.

While I preach here about good communication skills and criticize those who criticize me, I would be remiss to not acknowledge my own weakness in this area. I try my best to call out the bad guys for their bad actions, without making it personal — but admittedly it’s hard when the issue at hand is urgent and people’s lives are impacted.

I get it.

And to restate my thoughts and feelings on the violence, death and ongoing conflict in Gaza — clearly this will only cease when both sides set aside their weapons, the killing stops, the hostages and political prisoners are released, and a third party facilitates and monitors a mutual agreement and compromise.

Without question Hamas militant’s committed terrible, inhumane and criminal actions against innocent civilians on Oct. 7.

But killing every single member of Hamas, and their families, and everyone who lives in their neighborhood, or is a patient in the same hospital, or attends their same place of worship, is not the answer.

The ends do not justify the means.


Gary Hooser served eight years in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kaua‘i County Council. He presently writes on Hawai‘i Policy and Politics at
Source: The Garden Island

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