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September 17 2018

On Civility, Empathy and the Binding Power of 'Fellow Americans'

The Jerusalem Post
featuring Danielle McLaughlin

Approximately two weeks ago the US lost Sen. John McCain, a man whose life exemplified service to country and who, in death, reminded his fellow Americans that “We have always had so much more in common with each other than in disagreement.”

Right now our nation is facing a crisis of dialogue, of listening and of empathy. While it can be easy to have empathy for those who share our beliefs and outlook, it can be hard to empathize with those who do not.

Sen. McCain saw this and urged us to set aside our tribal differences. He understood, as we do, that free speech and public debate are foundational tenets of our republic, but that we must resist the temptation to vilify one another. If we “give each other the benefit of the presumption that we all love our country,” he said, “we will get through these challenging times.”

We are determined to do our part to live Sen. McCain’s words. And we challenge you to do the same.

We come together today as a conservative strategist and a liberal commentator, from opposite sides of the aisle with the utmost respect for each other. And we can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that we have learned from each other and are better for our debates.

We were also inspired by the Day of Jewish Unity. This day, organized by Acheinu, the outreach arm of Dirshu, a Jewish education organization, encourages Jews around the world to unite in prayer for peace and to pledge a cessation of all gossip and slander.

Although we are not Jewish, we are motivated by the promise of greater unity. We will commit to ensure that we listen with empathy to people who disagree with us, that our conversations will be productive instead of vitriolic and that we will find a way to work together.
 
This commitment matters in our everyday lives. Researcher Brene Brown teaches that people are generally happier if they assume others are “doing the best they can with the tools they have.” Simply put, we feel better when we give other people the benefit of the doubt. And the return on this commitment is not just happiness.

YOU MIGHT find common ground and find a new, unexpected, ally; you might be better able to solve a problem that helps more people than you could alone; you might be able to use reason and empathy to persuade someone to adopt a different viewpoint; or you might be persuaded to a different opinion after hearing information you had been unwilling to hear in the past.

And this commitment matters in the world writ large. John McCain said last year in the aftermath of Charlottesville, “Our shared values define us more than our differences. And acknowledging those shared values can see us through our challenges today if we have the wisdom to trust in them again.”

He understood that a nation conceived in liberty owes its continuing guarantee of liberty to its citizens finding common ground, understanding each other and working together. These shared values made our country what former president Reagan called “a shining city upon a hill whose beacon guides freedom-loving people everywhere.”

And indeed our freedoms of speech, assembly and due process under law have been exported around the world, manifest in the founding documents of younger nations and of numerous international human rights compacts.

Finally and vitally, our Founding Fathers understood the need for disagreement coupled with respect. In times much coarser than these, when our nation was just an idea, George Washington understood that “Every action done in company, ought to be with some sign of respect, to those that are present.”

Benjamin Franklin told us: “Be civil to all; sociable to many; familiar with few; friend to one; enemy to none.” Though this advice is more than two centuries old, it is no less true today than it was then.

Sen. McCain told us that the association “Fellow Americans” meant more to him than any other. Please join our pledge to find common ground, to listen, to find ways to work together and to treat each other with decency and empathy. As the late senator promised us, we will come through these challenging times “even stronger than before. We always do.”

Lee Carter is the president of Maslansky+Partners language strategy firm, a television news broadcaster and the author of Persuasion, which will be released by TarcherPerigee in 2019.

Danielle McLaughlin is an attorney, a legal and political commentator who appears on Fox, MSNBC and the Sean Hannity Radio Show, and an ambassador for the Independent Women’s Forum’s ‘Champion Women.’

 

 


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