Little Political Boxes

It’s difficult to stay out of
the little boxes we build for each other.

I was intrigued by a headline in an email newsletter from Sojourners, the political activist organization of the evangelical left. It says the recent midterm elections are a defeat for the religious right and secular left.

The headline stuck, but the article didn’t. What did hang in my memory is the little boxes that the headline writer used to characterize groups and individuals–religious right, secular left. If the message of this election is more partisanship and shorthand characterization, I missed it. Maybe that’s what the Sojourners article was about. But the headline boxed me in before I got to the narrative.

Today, getting beyond the boxes is difficult because criticism starts with framing the box into which the opposition attempts to put the arguments of an opponent. And once we’ve done this, it’s much too easy to characterize people and positions in short-hand than to deal with issues of substance.

We live in a “cut and run,” or “stay the course” world of public dialogue. I suppose it’s too much to expect that we can get beyond this kind of stereotyping and characterization. I think it’s corrosive. It eats away at our capacity to have genuine problem-solving dialogue. It’s barely more than name-calling, as children on a playground taunt one another. And it’s easy. Re-read my lead sentence, which I wrote to illustrate this point.

I do wish we could break out of our little boxes.

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