Guest columnist U.S. Rep Jim McGovern: We can disagree without being disagreeable

  • Congressman Jim McGovern. FILE PHOTO

Published: 8/12/2019 10:35:42 AM

All too often, our national political conversation seems to devolve into a shouting match. You can turn on the television and see talking heads screaming past each other or log on to social media to see anonymous insults traded back and forth at virtually any moment of the day. It’s exhausting, and I believe voters on all sides deserve better.

That’s why since I was first elected, I’ve been hosting “Coffee with your Congressman” across our district. I’ve traveled to bookstores, senior centers, restaurants — any type of venue that allows us get back to the type of real conversations that used to be so common. You won’t find all the finger-pointing, playing to large crowds, or made for YouTube moments that people are so sick and tired of today.

Instead, I’ve encouraged people to sit side-by-side in these more intimate settings and share their stories and concerns directly with me. And a funny thing happens every time: people stop talking past each other and actually start listening to one another. I’ve heard things that people just wouldn’t share at some large rally.

During a conversation at a coffee in Leicester, a young man talked about how he was brought here as a baby from Brazil. “My father instilled in me the American dream,” he told us. He made the issue of protecting DREAMers personal to everyone in the room that day, and left many with a new perspective as the nationwide debate over the border and immigration policy continues.

I met a lifelong Republican at a coffee in Uxbridge. It was clear we disagreed on nearly every issue, but there was no shouting or name-calling. Even though we didn’t agree on much, we still discussed the issues of the day and appreciated the chance to hear a different perspective.

I could go on and on. Holding these coffees has meant more travel and more events to reach the same amount of people as I would in some packed gymnasium. But it has been worth it to help facilitate meaningful conversations — including those that have reaffirmed that, even in this day and age, we can disagree without being disagreeable.

As chairman of the Committee on Rules, I’ve tried to bring this same approach to our nation’s capital. I’ve instituted a more accommodating legislative process that allows more amendments from both Democrats and Republicans to be debated on the House Floor — including those I disagree with. That’s because I believe in having fair fights and letting the chips fall where they may.

As I’ve watched more of these debates happen on the House Floor, I will admit that some politicians could stand to learn a thing or two from the people I meet regularly here in Massachusetts. No party has a monopoly on good ideas and there is much more common ground than some would have us believe.

None of this is to suggest we don’t have real and deep disagreements in our politics today. It’s no secret that I don’t agree with this president on much. I think his economic policy favors the rich and his immigration policy completely ignores human rights, to name just a few things.

But I also know that yelling won’t solve a single one of the issues we face today. So I will continue doing something radical for an elected official: talking less and listening more. Because as the Dalai Lama said: “When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.”

U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, a Democrat, represents the Massachusetts’ 2nd Congressional District.




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