Defusing tense situations in today's political climate

VA Shooting/Hate-Fueled Political Climate

BIDDEFORD, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- The shooting of a Republican Congressman in Alexandria, Va. Wednesday highlights the tense political climate in the nation.

Dr. Jeanne Hey, the dean of the college of arts and sciences at the University of New England, said being confronted by someone with opposing political views can sometimes be uncomfortable, and sometimes even hostile.

"I think once a culture moves in that direction, it's very hard to take it back," said Dr. Hey. "There's no question that the Internet has added more voices to the political debate. The potential bad side of it is that many of those voices are doing so anonymously. We know that when people interact anonymously, they speak in extremes."

Dr. Hey said that the 24-hour news stations with partisan agendas contribute to that atmosphere. She said there is a clear difference between being passionate about a political issue and frenzy.

"When you say, 'I'm not willing to listen to the other side, only my side is valid,' then that for me has crossed the line because it shows that you are not genuinely interested in learning and refining your idea, but you are just interested in confirming your idea," said Hey.

She said the shooting could have a number of political impacts, both on the Hill, and in the public. She believes in the short term, it will unite people, but that soon, the conversation will turn partisan.

"The first [debate] will be about guns. The second is, I would expect, that the right will use this to say that Republicans are being targeted," said Hey.

Hey said that even in Congressional hearings, they act in partisan ways, asking "gotcha" questions. She praised Maine's senators for their attempts to buck that trend.

"Senator Collins and Senator King -- neither of them is immune to asking a partisan question, but they're much more genuine and fair in asking questions and sharing points that are about advancing the argument or advancing the discussion and figuring out what's true than we see from many Congressional leaders," said Hey.

She said that when it comes to the average person hoping to defuse a tense political discussion or situation, displaying model behavior can help.

"Even if somebody comes and starts shouting at you or spouting an opinion with with you disagree, if you model behavior that shows you're not going to just scream in their face back, but that you're going to listen and say I really want to understand how you feel, because I feel differently, but It will help me. That is the most important thing," said Hey.

© 2017 WCSH-TV


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