Impeachment. Democratic Debates. Political ads and talking heads on T.V. and online. It can get exhausting. It seems these days that you are on one side or the other and there is no way across the gaping chasm between the two sides.
When my wife was young, she watched her lawyer father in court, duking it out with the County Solicitor (old language for District Attorney). She was horrified at how much these two men seemed to hate each other, and it angered her that the other guy was being mean to her father. Then the judge called for a recess. My wife and her mother went to the law library where her father and the mean man were smoking and joking (yes, you could smoke in the courthouse back then). They were obviously good friends and the mean man was no longer mean. It was very confusing for a young girl.
Lawyers (most of them, least) learn to argue their positions with zeal. You can disagree strongly and passionately with the opposing lawyer, but that does not mean you dislike the other lawyer. A former law partner of mine once told me, “Our clients have causes. We have clients.” And, what he meant was that we should not take on the emotions of our client in representing that client. This is especially true in family law. The spouses or ex-spouses may genuinely hate each other. We lawyers should not hate the opposing attorney for doing his or her job on behalf of the opposing party.
This type of intellectual restraint is sorely lacking in our political discourse today. Too often those who disagree with us are written off as wrong, stupid or corrupt. The phrase “reasonable minds can differ” has ceased to exist in our political conversations. Our Country needs leaders who can bring back respectful disagreement and the decorum of honest intellectual argument. I am not sure who that person is or whether she or he even exists in politics today. Actually, I think there are a few of these brave folks out there. But, in today’s environment, can they get elected? I don’t know.
These same concerns inform parents trying to co-parent their children. If you demonize the other parent, your children will see it, hear it and feel it. It harms them and it harms you. Hatred is the drink that destroys its vessel. It is, however, possible to disagree with the other parent (even strongly) if you keep your children’s best interest in sight. It should be hard to act in a hateful way when your children are watching. If talking to the other parent in this respectful way is difficult, get help. Co-parenting counselors, Parenting Coordinators and Mediators can all help build bridges of healthy communication.
As we approach the celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I am awed by the lessons there. More than ugly words, he braved physical violence, death threats and jail with respect, dignity and peaceful disagreement. His was not a passive or weak non-violence. In fact, his path of non-violent protest was far braver than driving a car into a crowd of protesters or firing an automatic weapon from the safety of a hotel room. I would urge leaders on both sides of the political divide to think about America as I would hope high-conflict parents would view their children. Harsh and hateful language hurts the Country. It also hurts the speakers. Those political leaders and pundits using hate-filled and derisive language against their opponents will eventually find that they have eroded their moral compasses and have harmed the County they so profess to love. Like the children of dysfunctional, anger-fueled parents, our County will carry those scars for years. Is victory worth the harm to our children and our Country?