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Be willing to listen, be willing to share views and above all, be willing to be civil

Divide and conquer is a commonly used expression when talking about ways to take down an opponent or an enemy. Essentially, by breaking apart what is unified and causing people to splinter off in different directions, the group or team is weakened and easier to defeat.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley kicked off the new year with a dozen town halls in different communities throughout Oregon, a practice that goes back to his first year in office in 2009. Regardless of how the senator is viewed in the community or what is taking place at the federal level, he, Sen. Wyden and Rep. Greg Walden make a point of visiting each county, fielding questions and encouraging civil discourse on the issues that concern them.

Not everybody agreed with Merkley when he responds to questions about topics ranging from health care to the recent conflict in Iran – or any other politically charged topic that people are passionate about. But the conversation remained civil and people expressed their gratitude to Merkley for taking the time to come to Prineville and be heard. The same can be said for the town halls held by Wyden and Walden.

One of the concerns that is seemingly raised at each of the town halls during the past few years is what the Congress members will do to put an end to the divisive partisan gridlock that is gripping not only Congress but the citizens of the country.

All three Congressional delegates lament the current situation and have offered opinions on what has changed. Usually, the growing division is attributed to cable news channels that demonize one political view while affirming the beliefs of the other. One channel rallies and isolates one side while another channel does the same with members of another political party.

They also note that social media, while useful in connecting people like never before, has created a platform for unfettered attacks on people of opposing viewpoints via cyberspace. People who are no longer having to look someone in the eye and extend the common courtesy of listening to different viewpoints are more apt to make divisive statements, which can spark divisive responses.

Whether either of those cows can ever get shoved back in the barn is hard to say, but what feels certain is that a new culture is taking root where people are more likely to reject other points of view, and worse yet, do so in such a way that creates feelings of animosity.

Merkley concluded his town hall by praising such events and expressing his gratitude that he has kept a goal of hosting them. He wishes that more legislators did the same so that they would hear from different citizens and hear different points of view. He hoped that more people would do what the roughly 150 people Saturday afternoon did at the town hall – ask questions, hear responses, offer their views and do it in a civil way where people don't feel attacked and pushed into further rejecting any other opinion.

Don't allow this community, this state and this country to be divided and conquered from the inside out. Be willing to listen, be willing to share views and above all, be willing to be civil.


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