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Viewpoint: Embrace unity in political variety

The world is always coming up with new ways for people to not get along.

Beyond the standard issues of race or religion, we manage to disagree on even the most mundane matters. Your sense of style is sloppy — but mine is inspired. Your music is just noise — mine is first-rate. We can’t even reach a consensus on who to blame for the NFL referees’ strike.

Contention is a very regular part of political debate. We can’t pretend that opposing candidates like Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are best friends or even close to agreeing on most issues. They aren’t, and that’s fine.

The problem with this contention lies at the grassroots level. It shows up when a neighbor is ostracized by his neighborhood for his political affiliation, or when a well-intentioned person assumes the news article she sends out in a mass e-mail won’t offend her friends.

Listening, in times of elections, is important. Too often, representatives of different ideologies spend more effort jamming their fingers into their ears then carrying on adult, if sometimes difficult, conversations. In fact, a few issues have yet to be addressed in an adult fashion, and the future isn’t looking any more mature.

There is a stern refusal to give credence to the other side when discussing gun control: It’s either all or nothing. Intelligent people know the gun control debate is one which deserves attention, and that both completely taking them away and completely turning a blind eye to the gun-buying process are ridiculous and unnecessarily extreme solutions.

The importance of sexual education in public schools is another issue that, frankly, has yet to be addressed in a mature fashion. One side sees it as a how-to course; the other side sees it as a class on what to avoid. Until both sides strive to see more value in the opposition’s opinions, the issue will continue to be handled only in extremes.

It’s OK to be offended. There is a litany of reasons to explain the political beliefs of the individual, and different issues spark different reactions in each of us. The problem lies not in the initial offense, but in the reaction.

When accidentally treading on an offensive or politically smug Facebook post, do not instantly hit the “flame” key. Allow a few moments to cool off, take the fingers out of the ears, and try to see the issue from that person’s perspective. Nothing is more infuriating than an e-friend who assumes all 850 of his/her e-acquaintances share the same opinion, but, rather than put so much effort into convincing that person of their wrongness, think of more constructive ways to share opinions. Hopefully, that person is in a mature enough position to respond without being offended in return. If not, that’s OK. This social change is not a move to political moderation, but a tolerance for the ideas of others.

W. Somerset Maugham, the famous British author, once wrote that the “essence of the beautiful is unity in variety.” As the election season draws nearer, let us try to remember that a variety of opinions is what leads to a truly democratic society. And a truly democratic society is a beautiful one.

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