Hitting below the belt or thereabouts, seems to be de riguer lately. “Confrontational” doesn’t even begin to describe how many of us behave in what are supposed to be reasonable, “fact-finding” conversations. (Although discovering “facts” doesn’t seem as important as collecting scalps.) “Conflagrational” seems a more accurate description.

Okay, what I’m describing – political posturing, playing only to one’s constituents, making the other person look not only like a gross incompetent but a purveyor of evil – isn’t part of our every day personal experience. Hopefully.

But it sure is in the air. And once it gets in the air it can get on us. (It’s kind of like picking up the accent of the part of the country you’re living in…) And the next thing we know, if we’re not vigilant is that our voices become shrill, our conversations turn severe and sarcastic, our recommendations come across as threats. And we become what we hate – which is, of course, an ever-present danger.

Don’t let it happen. Catch yourself in everyday conversations with just about anyone you come in contact with. Watch your tone, watch your stance, watch your face and for heaven’s sake, watch your words. Stay even, stay measured, be kind, assume the best from the other person.

Okay, so let’s say somebody comes looking for a scalp – and it’s yours. And with teeth bared, they say some version of, “Oh, give me a break! Don’t insult my intelligence by suggesting that you’re actually stating facts, that you’re out to do what’s right, that you give a flying rip about this country (or company, or whatever.) You’re a fraud!”

What do you do?

- Don’t bare your teeth! It’s not attractive. And don’t get down in the mud with them and start slinging it. It’s not only ugly, but seriously weakens whatever point you’re trying to make.

- Do say calmly and with grace, “Hey, I can understand how you feel; I totally get where you’re coming from. But there’s another way to look at it; possibly one you haven’t yet considered…” At that point you begin to disarm them. It’s tough to fight with someone who won’t join put up their fists. And if there’s an audience there, they’ll start listening to the “debate” in a new way – and maybe even come over to your side.

Sometimes it takes more courage to stay out of the brawl than it does to get into it – especially when there’s the pressure to “win” at any cost. But people – individuals, voters, even children – instinctively admire those with that kind of “grace.”

Not surprisingly, Hemingway’s definition of courage as “grace under pressure” is right on the money.

Now would probably be a good time for us to demonstrate it and “win”… for all the right reasons.


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