Planting the seeds to fine-tune our democracy

The task of influencing the voting public to value facts and logic is, at times, disheartening. Yet, it is too critical to abandon.

Jim Freedman is a leadership consultant whose latest book, published in 2020, is Becoming a Leader: Identity, Influence, and the Power of Reflection.

The words of Ben Franklin at the signing of our Constitution in 1787 - "A republic, if you can keep it," his response to the question, "What have we got, a republic or a monarchy?" - have never held more meaning.

Keeping our democracy in good working order is always a work in progress. For that reason, I have often wondered why some people disregard facts and logical reasoning when making critical decisions such as how to vote in a federal election.

I have done so myself at times - perhaps when the stakes did not seem as high as they are today. It may be tempting to attribute this to stubbornness or a lack of information, but the reality is far more complex.

Every individual's reasoning is informed by a collection of experiences, beliefs, and emotions. It is tempting to dismiss the perspectives of those with whom we disagree.

Doing so would undermine the very principles of the democratic society we aspire to be. That includes the freedom to hold and express diverse opinions - even those with which we are at the greatest odds.

Engaging with voters who dismiss facts and logic in the lead-up to an election is a daunting task, yet it is one that holds significant implications for the future of our republic. This challenge doesn't just call for extraordinary patience, compassion, and communication skills; it must also be grounded in realistic expectations.

It is perplexing to me when individuals support candidates who embody the opposite of the respect and understanding that we would expect and demand from our own children.

How do you engage productively with those whose political allegiance lies with public figures who try to rewrite history and reality - who dispute who won the last election or question whether space lasers cause forest fires?

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The challenge here is not to validate disrespect but to engage in a dialogue that can rise above personal affinities and focus on substantive issues such as economic security, affordable health care, and defensible borders.

Recent history has shown that the politics of "attack and defend" leads only to more division, polarization, and disunity.

Cultivating critical thinking in an era of "alternative facts" is an arduous task, according to scholars starting as far back as Socrates. It is a problem for the ages.

We know from experience that questions like "What makes you believe that?" are often met with resistance, but these questions remain vital. They may sow the seeds of doubt that can sprout critical self-reflection.

The challenge is to plant these seeds without malice and nurture them with patience and persistence.

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Encouraging the exploration of reliable information resources is a responsibility we all share. While it may seem overwhelming, the effort to introduce credible sources and debunk misinformation is an incremental battle, where every mind opened, even slightly, is a victory.

The task of influencing the voting public to value facts and logic is, at times, disheartening. Yet, it is too critical to abandon.

Therefore, in the interest of forging realistic expectations, I believe our immediate focus needs to shift from trying to change the minds of the immovable extremes. I am no longer interested in knowing the size of any candidate's "base."

Rather, we must engage with the persuadable middle - the 30% or so whose votes are not yet predetermined. It is in this middle ground where dialogue, evidence, and empathy may yet take hold and make a difference.

It is unsettling to consider the stakes of the upcoming election and the influence of the undecided minority. But it is this very gravity that motivates the need for continued and sustained effort.

For the sake of our democratic institutions, we all must strive to engage as many voters as possible, fostering a more-informed public and, ultimately, a stronger, more-representative republican democracy.

We are and always will be trying to become a "more perfect union." That is surely a goal worth pursuing.

This Voices Viewpoint was submitted to The Commons.

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