Opinion: Civil Discourse and Opportunities for These Times

In 1973, Hunter S. Thompson wrote “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72,” a chronicle of the discord and divisiveness during the 1972 presidential election between Richard Nixon and George McGovern.

While Thompson is no longer alive, no doubt he could write a sequel to his book today – “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’20.”

In times like today, we all would do well to revisit and consider two timeless observations of Winston Churchill.

When asked who were his friends and enemies, Churchill replied, “I have no permanent friends and I have no permanent enemies. I have permanent interests.”

Today in America we seem only to have permanent friends and permanent enemies.

I suggest we should focus more on our permanent interests — respect for all, tolerance for all, and a commitment to honoring our increasingly maligned founders who declared all are created equal with the inalienable right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I would respectfully note they said the right to pursue happiness, not have a guarantee of happiness to be provided by the government or anyone else.

That is not to say we cannot have robust disagreements on how to best advance our interests. We should have robust discussions on different policy proposals to achieve our interests. Going forward we can and we must find ways to disagree without being disagreeable.

As a result, we are much more likely to rediscover that by respecting each other we may change our long held views and opinions.

That leads to the need to embrace a second timeless observation by Churchill. The war time prime minister was told by a colleague that his decision to completely reverse a prior position meant Churchill was “inconsistent.” Few criticisms then and now are more biting and unwelcome than to be told we are inconsistent. All too often we would rather be wrong but not in doubt.

Our response should mirror Churchill’s response to the criticism. Churchill said, “When I am presented new information that challenges my current position, I would rather change my mind and be called inconsistent than to maintain my previous position and be wrong.”

Last, but not least, was Churchill’s observation on living in what is now called a VUCA world, a world increasingly characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Churchill said, “In times of great uncertainty, always look for great opportunities.”

As we enter into the home stretch of an uncertain election outcome, let us resolve to always look for great opportunities.

America is still the land of opportunity on Earth, even during times of great uncertainty. Let’s show a greater commitment to agreeing to disagree without being disagreeable and by embracing the idea that we should focus less on always being right so we are always viewed as being consistent.

— DAVID REEL

The writer is Maryland director at Quantum Communications, a public affairs/public relations consulting firm.