Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Political discourse without civility
By Editor
Mon 02 Sep. 2013, 14:00 CAT

"Please, listen to me. Try to understand me." This is the cry of most Zambians at this moment. Prejudices, suspicions, hatred, divisions are closing our ears and hearts to one another. Yet each one of us wants to be heard and understood.

Probably, we are all saying the same thing, but since we do not even make the effort to understand what others are saying, our problems and differences keep growing from day to day. And the result is misunderstandings, a general atmosphere of hostility and suspicion.

We have political differences. And these are increasingly leading to great animosities and hatred. We cannot deny the fact that we find it hard to like people of a different political affiliation. We are more tempted to fight them.

Yet we cannot live in a multi-party political dispensation without having a political affiliation or community. Enmity on the basis of different political affiliations is one of the worst examples of human sinfulness. The ability to tolerate and co-operate with people who belong to different political persuasions or affiliations is one of the greatest blessings of humanity. But when it turns into a spirit of enmity against others, it is one of the greatest evils.

A disastrous aspect of this evil is that it blinds us, it prevents us from seeing the evil in ourselves. We belong to our political groups as a drop of water belongs to the ocean, as a grain of sand belongs to the earth, as a breath of air belongs to the atmosphere. We see with the eyes it gives us. Whatever is good in it is in us. Whatever is evil in it is in us also. That is why we find it so hard to see the evil. As with our individual failings, others see much more quickly and clearly than we do. We may never see them. One of the greatest tragedies is that as groupings, political or otherwise, we hardly ever see and admit our own failings. We do not want to see them. We prefer to remain blind to one another without apparently any qualms of conscience. As long as this goes on, a culture of respecting divergent views and of tolerance in general is impossible to achieve. The group that is hurting others sees no need to change; and the group that is being hurt gets more and more resentful until its resentment bursts out into open conflict.
And as Bishop Paul Mususu observes, there is need to encourage the culture of respecting divergent views and of one another's opinions.

As human beings, we must face death, old age and disease as well as natural disasters that are beyond our control. But these sufferings are quite sufficient for us. Why should we create other problems due to our own political outlook and affiliations, just different ways of thinking?

Of all the various delusions, the sense of discrimination between oneself and others is the worst form, as it creates nothing but unpleasantness for both sides. It is tolerance and respect for others that creates the sense of trust that allows us to open up to others and reveal our problems, doubts and uncertainties.
If we want co-operation and a friendly atmosphere, we must create the basis for them. Whether the others' response will be positive or not, first we must create some kind of common ground.

Political life requires tolerance and an ethical foundation. Intolerance is self-perpetuating. If we succeed through intolerance at the expense of others' rights and welfare, we have not solved the problem but only created the seeds for another.

It is for this reason that the culture of respecting divergent views and political affiliations is so important to develop. We must all, at a minimum, tolerate each other's differences, recognising that the other side has valid rights and a legitimate point of view. If there is a dispute, there is need to meet in a spirit of compromise and seek a specific solution that builds on the general principle of majority rule and minority rights. Consensus or accommodation can be reached through debate and compromise. And in this way, trust is built which may be necessary to resolve future differences.

We cannot build a democratic society without knowing how to negotiate with others, how to compromise and to work within the constitutional system and the rule of law. We cannot build a democratic society without knowing how to, with civility, discourse with others.
We have serious challenges as a people when it comes to civility. We seem not to know how to communicate with each other in a manner that brings us to closer to each other. Our politics, and even civil discourse, is full of lack of civility, insults and all sorts of abuses. Tune in to a phone-in radio programme and hear the language that is being used against others! We speak without moderation and respect for others, especially those we politically and socially detest. Of course, there are differences among political groupings. If you listen to the radio, it won't be difficult to know which is the most uncouth group when it comes to political discourse. And usually, that follows the tone and language of the leader of the political party one is following or belongs to.

It seems in our politics, there is no mere disagreement on any issue. Every difference of opinion is seen as enmity. One has to always be labelled a supporter of this one or that one. This is killing reason and objectivity in political discourse.

It's time we started building coalitions. We say this because coalition-building is the essence of democratic action. By working to establish coalition, groups with differences learn how to argue peaceably, how to pursue their goals in a democratic manner and ultimately how to live in a world of diversity.

Democracies make several assumptions about human nature. One is that, given a chance, people are generally capable of governing themselves in a manner that is fair and free. Another is that any society compromises a great diversity of interests and individuals who deserve to have their voices heard and their views respected. As a result, one thing is true of all healthy democracies: they are noisy. This is so because all are free to raise their voices and participate in the democratic political process. In this way, democratic politics acts as a filter through which the vocal demands of a diverse populace pass on the way to becoming public policy.


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