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124 How discourse reduces anger and makes us happier [6 Jul 2021]

The big six

I KEEP six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

Rudyard Kipling

Microsoft Word opened the following definition for "un-American":

un-American (adjective)
not in accordance with American characteristics. "such un-American concepts as subsidized medicine"

I was looking up the word un-American to use it in a completely nonsensical sentence: "Socialized medicine is un-American." The dictionary response is impressively similar to my jest. Both example phrases are gibberish, meaningless political sloganizing. To clarify, I am coining the phrase Big Six to signify scholarly investigation as described in the Kipling poem. This is not an article about healthcare. Rather, healthcare provides an easy example with which to discuss civility.

Without meaning

We become what we think about. Our speech flows from that source. Contentious political sloganizing symptomizes the small minds that revel in thoughtless provocation. Their folly might be excused insofar as they are entertaining others by engaging in mock conflict. As a child I used strips of lath in pretend sword fighting. My playmates and I acted out exciting movie scenes without being caught up in personal animosity. We all understood that we were entertaining each other with camaraderie and no hard feelings.

As the children grow up and the lath swords become verbal arguments, the play participants tend to lose their innocence. They start to believe the imitation weapons used in the game. The similarity of the words to real life introduces personal emotions. Although the parties claim to be peacefully exchanging blows, they come dangerously close to meaning the insults they are wielding. They start to take themselves too seriously.

With meaning

It takes only one of the Big Six to separate the children's play swords from adults' play insults. We need only ask, "What is going on?" The children immediately realize they are not settling disputes or conquering territory. They know they are acting without consequences. This analysis applies also to the playground religious arguments I described in article 4, where we entertained each other and settled nothing. The outcome of the verbal game did not spoil personal relationships.

Adults are often not so clear that their social exchange is harmless pretend battle. After delivering thoughtless empty words, they forget to leave the carnage on the imaginary battlefield and return to constructive daily life. They use working vocabulary like "socialism" without realizing that the term has never been sharpened by being defined. In the vigorous slogan contest, they do not establish logical conclusions because they do not apply the Bix Six to their terminology. Indeed, the root conflict is usually difference in assumed definitions. Although nobody expects to carry human bodies off the field, the participants in the argument game often part company bruised by insensitivity. The loaded verbal guns continue to threaten.

Drawing the lines

Adults fighting over healthcare need to be clear about "what is going on." Most of the time the game consists of lofty or emphatic sentence structure. Loaded statements can be fired effectively against other like instruments of low precision. The mental game by itself is allowable entertainment. Damage follows if either party mistakes the verbal jousting for logical substance. The pretend battle does not apply to reality until after sufficient application of the entire Big Six.

Properly addressing the right questions separates genuine debate from political sloganizing. Most of the verbal fighting, along with the associated animosity, drains away when parties clarify their assumptions, objectives, and methods. Hurtful name calling around the word "socialism" comes about because parties don't recognize that neither side wants to abandon human beings to die in the streets. They overlook their fundamental area of agreement.

Nobody rationally argues that humans should be denied timely effective standard procedures such as prevention. We do not deliberately delay care until symptoms become crises. Healthcare debate is not whether there should be healthcare. Instead, debate is feasible in the arena of measuring results against methods. Even regarding payment, the question is not whether, but rather who, when, how. Humans have long since grown beyond the primitive stage where health is exclusively self-care. Raw animal survival can select for the strongest individuals, but it is not part of humanity.

What is going on?

The pattern

Political sloganizing is born of selfishness. Misdirected enthusiasts reduce issues to buzz words and then condition the public into mindless reactions to those words. One of the most common trigger points is the word socialism. Demagogues replace objective meaning with emotional conditioning, irrationally making their target the root of all evil. To be sure, they find examples of disasters that called themselves socialism. By the same token, American materialism is proof positive that Christianity is completely evil. We know human intelligence can parse better than that. Neither Socialism nor Christianity is defined by its unsuccessful imposters.

Rational discourse is completely opposite to sloganizing. Intelligence, the personal application of the Big Six, equips humans to evaluate objectives and methods as suggested above. Selfishly motivated charlatans derail such thinking, replacing it with injurious conditioned reaction to words. They use that conditioning to arouse cheering, non-thinking crowds to anger.

The example

Let us apply the better approach to the healthcare example. There are effective and clumsy ways of carrying out any good intention. Progressive action requires sorting out the steppingstones instead of changing slogans and abandoning the journey. Working through the difficult questions leads to realizing that there are common goals.

Medical doctors were presenting seminars more than a decade ago to show how all the other industrialized countries achieve comparable, often better, wellness results using varied forms of single-payer universal coverage, sometimes for dramatically lower fraction of income. Instead of certified billers, they often use pre-existing fairness-oriented tax policy. Instead of for-profit enterprise, they typically use a service model of delivery. This orderly combination reduces duplication, greed, and cost. Because this article is not about healthcare, this paragraph is meant only as an illustration that one can construct rational support for a misunderstood proposal. Of course there are alternative approaches, and civility is sharing the stage among all the viewpoints.

Therefore, today's call to action asks us to dive directly into polite discussion, replacing the slogan noise. It is not helpful to condemn demagoguery; doing so adds more noise. Rather we must focus our attention on each other's viewpoints in a quest for mutual education and understanding. Finding common goals is probably the most direct way to do that. In today's example, we ask, "What do you want health care to achieve?" The conversations that follow encourage all parties to demonstrate how their reasoning best leads to the agreed outcomes. Where goals differ, clarification becomes part of the rational discourse.

I plead with myself and the public to imbed this practice at the behavioral level. We condition ourselves not with reflex reactions to slogans, but with the kindness that honors the dignity of others. Our happiness increases as we become a civil society.

COMMENT from Bonni on July 7

Thanks for calling for reasoned discourse rather than the prevalent epithet-slinging and namecalling . As a journalist I also must comment on the anti-Medicare for All "definition" used for "un-American". This is pure propaganda for current purposes, misused by a supposedly objective reference source. Anybody favoring reasoned discourse must call for a stop to censorship and slanted references in the media. A messed-up media leads to messed-up relationships among people. Because the media is corporatized and out of our control, this means we all need to be extra kind and extra considerate in speaking to one another. We can control ourselves so let's do that.

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