Stand FOR Something Already

It’s so terribly easy to be against things – bad laws, bad regulations, bad policies, bad elected officials. These bad things have always been with us and always will be. Fine. But for a moment, consider how little effort and imagination is required to be a critic of bad things. It’s so easy, in fact, that in our current polarized political environment, criticism and complaint have become so ubiquitous as to become meaningless.

Many serious voters are getting tired of the echo-chamber negativity, even when we agree with it. Voter disengagement should not be a surprise.

When I ran for Texas Railroad Commissioner in 2016, the most engaging question I was asked was what I would DO as Commissioner. It was easy for me to criticize the Railroad Commission, and even our state legislature. But if you’re only one of three Commissioners, and powerless to change statute, “What would you do?” is a compellingly important question. To answer the question, it helped to focus on the positive by imagining myself as a sitting Commissioner engaged in day-to-day decision-making, even in an environment that was not how I wanted it to be.

When I was in marriage counseling at the end of my first marriage, the counselor required my wife and I to always use “I” statements, and not “you” statements, when we spoke. He explained that “I think you’re an asshole” is not an “I” statement.

Perhaps we could extend this approach to our political discourse. It seems that our political debates often don’t seem too terribly different from arguments that occur in a bad marriage.

So … my political counseling recommendation is to use “for” statements and refrain from “against” statements. Like with marriage counseling, “I’m for eliminating program A” is not a “for” statement.

The marriage counseling requirement is difficult. Using “I” statements means focusing on what you want, not what you want your mate to do. In terms of political counseling, using “for” statements means focusing on what you want and not what you want government to do.

This is a positive position, a position that increases dialog with those who will engage with us. Once we start a discussion about desired outcomes, subsequent discussions on tactics can be much more fruitful. Besides, when it comes to desired outcomes, we often find amazing concurrence with those willing to talk with us.  

Being AGAINST something tends to be a take-it-or-leave-it position. Being FOR something means having a willingness to accept change that moves in the desired direction, even if only part way. Being FOR something means accepting compromise in the spirit of working together so as to be able to fight the good fight another day. Being FOR something means being willing to modify one’s position to out of respect for the desires of others.

So, quit your bellyachin’ and bitchin’ and stand FOR something instead.

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