Debate is a healthy component of democracy. Citizens should be able to discuss issues, even contentious issues, to present and explain their perspectives. Whether the goal is to persuade the other, or simply to inform the other, there is value in the face to face communication of ideas, which, at the very least, conveys the reality that each of us is a human being and not a faceless ideology or agenda.
Political debates between candidates running for office are rarely about persuasion or collaboration, but rather the presentation of platforms for an audience of voters to compare the candidates and gain a deeper understanding of their positions and their temperaments. Conducted with civility and decorum, these types of debates can also be useful and productive.
It is no secret, however, that debate has been degraded and lost much of its integrity in recent years. Both debate between candidates and debate amongst citizens have often devolved into emotional attacks fraught with name-calling, accusation, and more of a focus on triumph than on truth-finding or mutual respect.
Debate participants are often pitted against one another as enemy combatants rather than community members who hold varying perspectives on how to achieve a common good. In political debates, rarely do we conceive of both candidates as courageous citizens who seek public office in order to better and benefit their constituencies. Rather, we tend to identify the hero and the villain, the one has our best interest at heart, and the other who is seeking office for personal gain and with malicious intent.
In such a setting, we are offered a potent reminder by two candidates running for the same House seat in Northern Vermont. Republican Zac Mayo and Democrat Lucy Rogers have both been waging aggressive campaigns in Lamoille County, each of them going door to door to visit every one of the 2,000 homes in their district to make sure the voters know them and understand their positions and commitment.
Recently, the two candidates schedule a debate at the local library so that voters could address them together and hear them discuss the issues. As the debate ended, the candidates asked the moderator and the audience if they would give them a few minutes for a conclusion they had privately prepared in advance.
Rogers retrieved her cello, and Mayo grabbed his guitar, and the two played a duet.
It was an emotional rendition of the song “Society” by Eddie Vedder, and needless to say the audience was moved and astonished by this act of collaboration and civility from these two “rival” candidates. Whichever candidate wins, they have together succeeded in reminding us that there is a better way forward, and that the orchestra sounds best when each member contributes his/her unique talent and voice.
Watch coverage of this encouraging story from CBS Evening News here.
And share this story with anyone you know who can use a dose of hope and a reminder of our potential for camaraderie and unity in these challenging times.