Broken Conversations

Was talking with my fabulous wife, Melissa, this morning, about immigration issues in the U.S. One of my take-aways was that this subject, like many others in our society, has become so polarized and politicized that it’s virtually impossible to have a functional and thoughtful conversation about it.

Case in point:

We both are horrified by the xenophobia and racism Trump uses in talking about Mexican and Latino immigrants – particularly undocumented immigrants. And we both fully support comprehensive immigration reform including a path to citizenship. That said, we know someone who has a beef with current U.S. immigration policy and who, as a result of that beef, sometimes expresses support for Trump’s candidacy (even though he readily agrees that Trump is a racist and a demagogue). Ironically, his beef is not with Democratic proposals for immigration reform; no, his beef is with the H1B-Visa program, the one that allows American companies, often in hi-tech, to hire highly skilled workers from other countries to do things like computer engineering, bio-science, and medical professional work. His deal was that he got laid off by a major tech corporation, which replaced him with a cheaper professional from a poorer country. Before his last day on the job, he was required to train his replacement.

I felt frustrated and threatened to hear that this person was even considering supporting Trump – given his overall values and past voting history, it came as a shock. He also really likes Bernie. But he has come to think of all “establishment” candidates as part of a (legal) immigration system that makes it harder for him to get work in his field at a decent rate of pay. Bringing up the fact that he could easily stand for reform of the H1B-Visa program while still advocating for a path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented, low-wage-earning immigrants may give him pause for thought, but my wife rightly observed that the emotional overlay for the whole subject of “immigration” writ large is clearly charged for him and may override other considerations. 

Unfortunately, immigration is a topic that falls into the category of a broken conversation. Meaning we have no way, in our mainstream culture, and very few ways in our alternative cultural settings, to have a healthy, constructive conversation about the issue. And in an election year this is an even more broken conversation.

I’m asking myself what might be the components of a not broken conversation – a constructive conversation. I think they include:

  • being able to name all of the stakeholders in an issue and have some understanding and empathy for their legitimate concerns and needs
  • searching for solutions that seek to balance different legitimate concerns
  • considering the different values that are at stake and different ways to balance them
  • refraining from black and white thinking or demonizing an entire stakeholding community

We have other broken conversations in this country. Like guns.

And Israel/Palestine is a thoroughly broken conversation, not just in the US but all over the world.

Broken conversations frighten me.

 

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