A Path Forward After Midterms: A Kind Word Turns Away Anger


The tectonic plates of moral talk now need to shift before the partisan politics of division and confrontation set in, Parham writes. (Photo: Pete Souza/White House)

The tectonic plates of politics shifted during the U.S. midterm elections. Republicans won decisive control of the U.S. Senate, winning states where only recently their prospects were doubtful. Republican control of the House of Representatives expanded. Republicans won governorships in unexpected places.

The tectonic plates of moral talk now need to shift before the partisan politics of division and confrontation set in.

Triumphant Republicans and bitter Democrats need to remember a word of wisdom from the Bible.

"A sensitive answer turns back wrath, but an offensive word stirs up anger," reads Proverbs 15:1.

Kind words dampen anger. Careful language restrains the temptation to demonize opponents and distort motives. Self-disciplined speech avoids the traps of unworkable confrontation and undeliverable threats.

Collaborative words build trust. Humble words ward off prideful, dishonoring agendas. Truthful words spoken in kindness heal wounds.

Political power has shifted. The shift can lead to more partisan fragmentation, public frustration and government failure. The shift can contribute to more anti-government anger and less shared commitment to meaningfully addressing urgent issues.

Or the political shift accompanied by a moral shift in language can begin to restore the nation's common good. Talk matters, especially humble talk.

Republican leaders must acknowledge that with power comes the responsibility to talk responsibly, not ideologically, not triumphantly. Democratic leaders must acknowledge that with the loss of power comes the responsibility to end threats of divisive executive action, accusations of racism and anti-feminism, claims that the midterm elections really aren't a reflection of where America is.

Both parties need to speak of collaborative efforts, seek the common good, find workable solutions where the pragmatism becomes more important than the perfectionism.

Political leaders will do better if pundits and preachers also remember the wisdom from Proverbs 15:1. Too many pundits and preachers seem to thrive on offensive words that stir up anger and fire up their followers.

The election is over. It's time to turn down the rhetoric and take a different path forward.

Pope Francis offers a constructive way to deal with disagreement. He advocates a culture of encounter.

"We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us. Sometimes after a meeting, I want to arrange another one because new ideas are born and I discover new needs," said Pope Francis a year ago.

He added, "This is important: to get to know people, listen, expand the circle of ideas. The world is crisscrossed by roads that come closer together and move apart, but the important thing is that they lead towards the Good."

Let's hope, dare pray, that political leaders, pundits and preachers will take a page out of the pope's moral playbook for advancing civility and the common good.

Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.

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Tags: Civility, Partisanship, Robert Parham, Speech


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