A while back I wrote about how the things we’re told we shouldn’t talk about—religion and politics—are precisely some of the most important things we can talk about. Sitting with someone of a different mind about either subject, but who is respectful and can express herself well, is a very pleasant experience. The problem most of us face—and the reason for the advice to avoid talking about religion and politics—is that most people drop respect, humility, and good communication when it comes to these things. My argument today is that such should not be the case, because most of these disagreements are arguments of degrees.
When someone tells me we need a free market, I say “A totally free market means anti-freeze sold as snow-cone syrup.” They retort, “Well, of course we need some regulation.” And so it becomes an argument of the degree of regulation.
When someone says we need enough regulation to stamp out all cheating, corruption, waste, and lead paint from China, I point out that in order to do that we would need a government official assigned to monitor no more than ten people (and more people to monitor the monitors). This is neither attractive nor financially feasible. And so it becomes an argument of the degree of freedom to make mistakes.
Taxes are a favorite target of the right. When in a discussion with someone who fancies himself anti-tax, I’ll propose we reduce the tax rate to zero—that will really get the economy humming! He will concede that taxes are essential to an efficient and energetic government. And so it becomes are argument of the degree of taxation.
On the other hand, when someone asserts we need to raise taxes on the rich, I say, “Should we return to the highest tax rate during WWII of 94%?” Reasonable people will admit that is too high. And so it becomes are argument of degrees of personal financial freedom.
In business there is the concept of a Pareto win. If the seller sells a good or service for more than the minimum he will accept and the buyer pays less than the maximum he will pay, then they both win. In politics particularly, but also in religion, this common ground is vast. The fact is that most of us agree on more than we disagree on. If we can first identify and explore common ground, then we can retain our respect, humility, and our communication skills as we broaden our perspective and learn from the experiences and insights of others.